BELGRADE — The local food pantry moved Thursday from the basement of the Belgrade Town Office to the main floor of the North Belgrade Community Center, where large windows bring daylight onto shelves and a line of freezers and refrigerators.

At the new location on Route 8 near Tukey Bros. Inc., several women toted boxes of canned goods and other items into the pantry, stacking them on newly constructed particle-board shelving and debating about what should go where. Another volunteer stacked loaves of bread in a freezer.

The pantry’s stock had been allowed to dwindle in preparation for the move, but the shelves were expected to be chock full by opening day.

Organizers plan to have the Belgrade/Rome Special Needs Food Pantry open as usual 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday in the new site, and an open house is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 15.

“The open house is to show off our new facility and to thank taxpayers of Rome and Belgrade for their support,” said Marylou Butterfield, chairwoman of the food pantry’s board of directors.

The food pantry served an average of 35 families — 126 people — per month in 2014 and has about 40 volunteers, most of whom work there two hours a month. The pantry also distributes holiday food baskets to its registered families in mid-December. Families fill out their requests on a printed grocery list. Volunteers pick the items from the pantry, offering substitutions when something is unavailable, then pack up the groceries.

For many people who use the pantry, however, it will mean driving an additional 5 miles to reach the new site, which is on a road that is less traveled and offers less visibility for donations. However, donation sites remain at the Belgrade Center for All Seasons, the Belgrade library and post offices and the Rome Town Office. Butterfield said the most valuable donation is money.

Room for the food pantry, which has been housed since its founding in 1992 at the Belgrade Town Office, was not included in the plan for the new Town Office now under construction on Route 27.

Instead, the Board of Selectpersons made plans to relocate it to the town-owned building in North Belgrade.

“I think they didn’t want to put any more space in the new building,” said Marie Pulsifer, who founded the pantry in 1992 after holding a community meeting and enlisting 30 volunteers.

When she talked to Scott Cole, the town manager then, he offered the basement space, and the food pantry operated there until Thursday.

Pulsifer has some concerns about the new location, saying, “I think any service should be centrally located.”

Even so, the North Belgrade Community Center significantly improves the pantry’s surroundings. The building has a full kitchen and handicapped-accessible entrances and bathrooms and is rented out for private parties, such as bridal showers or anniversary parities, and occasionally is used for municipal meetings. The pantry area is walled off from the main room.

Pulsifer also noted that when some people needed food and were unable to drive to the food pantry, volunteers have made deliveries.

The town invested about $5,000 in the new location, according to Belgrade Town Manager Greg Gill, including building a wall to create the pantry space and installing a generator and a security system. Gill also said donations of food and other items for the special-needs pantry that are left at the Belgrade Town Office will be dropped off at the new site by the town’s maintenance worker, who lives in North Belgrade.

As the boxes of food and freezers were removed from the Town Office basement, the town anticipated taking back some of that space briefly until the new Town Office is completed, probably in March 2016.

Hazel Labbe, the Belgrade/Rome Special Needs Food Pantry’s secretary, suggested people might consider donating particular items that the pantry distributes, such as toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dish detergent, bar soap and shampoo. Cans of tuna, too, are always welcome, she said.

The pantry also buys dry goods from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has its administrative offices in Auburn and provides food to hungry people through some 600 nonprofit agencies in northern New England. The Belgrade/Rome Special Needs Food Pantry can pick up the items in Augusta when Good Shepherd trucks make deliveries there.

“Over the last probably two years, we are depending on Good Shepherd much more,” Butterfield said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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