FREEPORT – A hardy band of volunteers managed to take in a towering mound of groceries and thousands of dollars in donations during an around-the-clock fundraiser this President’s Day weekend.

The group stood, sat and camped outside the First Parish Church on Main Street between 10 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday accepting donations in the wind and the snow for the Freeport Community Services heating program and Freeport/Pownal food pantry.

The 2013 Freeze Out paid off with a record $12,000 and 800 pounds of food donated. Last year the Freeze Out raised $11,000 and about 400 pounds of food.

“We exceeded our goals,” said Sue Mack, Freeport Community Services coordinator.

First organized by the First Parish Church, the Freeze Out is crucial to keep the heating program and food pantry running, Mack said. Donations tend to taper off after Christmas and by late January the shelves are bare, she said. The weekend’s infusion should tide the food pantry over until the next big food drive in March, Mack said.

The heating program provides $200 vouchers and the food pantry serves 150 families, triple the number served when the Freeze Out began nine years ago.

Federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in Maine was cut from $54 million two years ago to $38 million this year, putting more pressure on local communities to help needy residents keep warm this winter.

The 15 volunteers who manned the food drop-off site outside the First Parish Church included several Boy Scouts from Troop 58 who camped out in three tents. Others spent the night huddled against hay bales inside the church’s three-sided shelter.

“Some people do that every night,” said volunteer Patti Bruce of Freeport.

While donations were steady throughout the day Saturday, business tapered off as the night progressed. About five people made donations between midnight and 1 a.m., another one or two between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. and then it picked up, the volunteers said.

It was a community effort, Mack said. The First Parish Church fed the volunteers chili and chop suey, while neighboring businesses provided hot drinks, raised money with bake sales and donated checks.

Spending a night in the cold was worth it, the volunteers said.

“It is just so nice to see so many people give for the benefit of the community,” said Paula O’Brien of Freeport.

Drew Sachs, one of the Scouts’ volunteer parents at the Freeze Out, said his son Peter and the other Scouts spent the day soliciting donations from shoppers on the street and transporting food donations to the pantry. The camping out was tough, he said.

“It was very, very windy,” Sachs said.

He said even with the record donations it was clear to him that the pantry will quickly run out.

“They still need more,” he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

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