AUGUSTA — Carrie McMaster struggles to feed her family.

The young mother from Farmingdale relies on food stamps. She receives $360 a month from the state’s food supplement program, but has never been able to stretch it over four weeks. She said the high price of groceries makes it impossible.

McMaster and her young son stood in line in the cold Friday morning in the Lithgow Library parking lot along with about 350 others to get free food. The large turnout surprised event organizers, who said it underscored the growing need for food as costs go up.

The foodmobile was sponsored by the Augusta Food Bank and Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn.

McMaster, 23, said she just completed a course at Helping Hands Trade School in Winslow to become a personal support specialist and hopes to find a job soon. But until then, her struggle continues.

“This really helps people who don’t have much,” McMaster said as she waited in line for a package of frozen hot dogs. “I receive help from the state, but it’s still difficult. When it comes to the end of the food stamps each month, it’s hard.”

Abigail Perry, executive director of the Augusta Food Bank, Friday helped distribute nearly 9,000 pounds of food, including meat, bakery items, fresh potatoes, fresh onions, salad mix, canned green beans, canned pears, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, juice boxes and a variety of snacks.

She said the 350 people who showed up actually represent 910 individuals when their families are taken into account.

“Grocery costs are going up. Fuel costs are going up. People are having a tough time,” she said. “They say the economy is improving, but it’s not. Prices are going through the roof. We had people standing in line at 8 a.m., and we weren’t going to start until 10 a.m.”

Because of such a large turnout, she said food bank volunteers handed out food earlier than the planned 10 a.m. start. Tables on either side of the food mobile were lined with cardboard boxes filled with items.

Louann Bates, a field representative from Good Shepherd, said she didn’t expect so many people to show up and said there is a greater need for assistance.

“But they did a nice job making sure everyone got something,” Bates said. “We do about 100 of these a year throughout the state. We struggle to make sure the communities we serve are getting the stuff they need.”

Jim Coutu, 31, of Augusta, agreed that times are tough. He is a road flagger in the summer and works at odd jobs in the winter, whatever he needs to do to get by.

Coutu had been receiving $200 a month in food stamps, but that was reduced to $44. Because gas prices continue to increase, he has to weigh whether to spend the little cash he has on food or save it to fill up his tank.

“I don’t get my food stamps for another two days, so this is a great help,” Coutu said. “When you have to save your cash for gas and bills, you think twice about buying food. Is it really necessary if I need gas the end of the week?”

Coutu said the food banks did an excellent job spreading the word about the foodmobile.

“They did it through the right channels,” he said. “They got the information out at shelters, on the radio, and by word of mouth — I heard about it from my girlfriend’s mother, who lives in Gardiner.

“They were able to reach the people who really need it. Things like this actually lifts people’s spirits.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

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