FARMINGTON — With Thanksgiving less than a week away, the need for food assistance in Franklin County is made even greater amid possible layoffs at Verso Corp.’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay.

Leiza Hiltz-Scerbo, executive director of the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington, said her organization is seeing an influx of need.

“There’s a trickle-down when a mill closes or has layoffs. And at this point seasonal jobs are ending and there are more people struggling to find work,” Hiltz-Scerbo said. “I don’t believe for a minute that working poor people would be doing Thanksgiving if we weren’t here. They do all that they can to make ends meet and provide for their families, but sometimes it’s just not enough.”

The Care and Share Food Closet has been operating in Franklin County for 25 years, providing food for the county’s working poor families and elderly. Last year the food closet served 3,780 families in 12 towns, a total of 9,243 individuals.

The food closet has enough components for 300 Thanksgiving baskets to be given to area families that have signed up over the last month for holiday assistance from the organization. But with 350 families signed up to pick up their baskets on Wednesday, the food closet is rushing to try to source supplies for the 50 additional baskets, which include a whole turkey, stuffing, squash, potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, apples, pie crust, pumpkin pie filling and evaporated milk.

Hiltz-Scerbo also picked up eggs to be supplied in the Thanksgiving baskets as well because “there is more than just one meal families have to make that day.”

On Saturday, a crew of food closet volunteers will be retrieving the turkeys that have been stored at Tranten’s grocery store in Farmington and packing up the baskets that will be picked up by families Monday at noon.

Hiltz-Scerbo and a crew of 60 volunteers at the Care and Share Food Closet are working hard to make sure that any family in Franklin County that would otherwise go without a Thanksgiving meal has access to the supplies needed.

“It’s a time when a lot of people get depressed if they can’t provide for their family,” Hiltz-Scerbo said. “We’re hoping that what we’re doing, by providing them with a Thanksgiving meal, that we’re bringing families together.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 16 percent of Maine households are food insecure, meaning people have “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

According to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, 16 percent of people in Franklin County experience food insecurity. For children in Franklin County, the rate of food insecurity jumps to 25 percent.

This Thanksgiving season, local businessman Richard Bjorn has offered a matching grant of up to $10,000 for any donations the food closet receives through the end of the year. Bjorn’s offer to match donations started at the beginning of November and since then the food closet has raised $6,000 in monetary donations.

“We’ve had a bunch of people reach out to help and donate. (The holidays) are time when people realize they’ve been blessed and they want to give back to those who are not as fortunate,” Hiltz-Scerbo said.

The food closet operates on a combination of community donations and grants that Hiltz-Scerbo applies for. Community donations are a combination of monetary donations, like Bjorn’s, and the donations of food goods. The Old South Church youth group has donated 50 turkeys to be used in the food closet’s Thanksgiving baskets, and many individuals have done likewise, Hiltz-Scerbo said.

While the focus on food pantries is heightened around the holidays, Hiltz-Scerbo says it’s the generosity of the community that keeps them running all year long.

She notes specifically the Helping Hands can drive supported by students and families at Regional School Unit 9 schools that provided the pantry with 3,500 pounds of canned goods over last year. The Farmington Hannaford also makes donations five days a week to help stock the food closet. In the summer, many individuals will donate excess produce that they have grown in their gardens.

With one of the grants Hiltz-Scerbo applied for she was able to purchase a larger refrigeration unit to store dairy products such as cheese and milk, which she said are the goods that are least donated.

The Care and Share Food Closet is located at 508 Fairbanks Road in Farmington, and while donations for Thanksgiving baskets were only accepted through Friday, the Food Closet accepts donations year round for it’s normal pantry food pick up hours that are held Monday through Friday, noon to 2 p.m.

During those hours residents who are in need of food assistance are able to come to the food closet and work with volunteers to pick up boxes of any food items that extensive pantry offers.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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