BINGHAM — The town of Bingham straddles both sides of busy U.S. Route 201, 50 miles from the Jackman border with Canada to the north and 23 miles from the Somerset County seat in Skowhegan to the south.

With a population of between 900 and 1,000, about 23 percent of the town lives in poverty, according to recent U.S. Census figures.

The median age for Bingham residents is 53, showing a population that is aging with some on fixed incomes. Maine now ranks ninth in the nation and first in New England for food insecurity, according to data published by the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn.

Enter volunteers from the parish of St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Owens Street, including Jim West, owner of the closed Jimmy’s Market on Main Street.

On Thursday, the St. Peter’s thrift store and food cupboard opens its doors in the former grocery store to residents of Bingham, Moscow, Caratunk, Pleasant Ridge and Concord Township. The thrift store will open first, followed by the food cupboard in a couple of weeks, said Violet Tibbetts, one of several volunteers who made it all happen.

“We really need a food pantry,” said Tibbetts, Bingham’s town tax collector for 40 years and now retired. “The thrift shop is nice, but we need to do the thrift shop to pay for the expenses, the rent, the heat.”

Tibbetts said this past summer the Bingham Area Health Center hosted visits from Good Shepherd for outdoor food give-aways. On each of the visits, more than 100 people showed up for food, she said.

“They were all lined up. There really is a big need, especially this time of year when everybody’s got fuel to pay for,” Tibbetts said.

A person is considered food insecure if they lack access to enough food to ensure adequate nutrition, according to data published by Good Shepherd.

West, who bought Redmon’s Market and called it Jimmy’s in 1969, moved to a new, bigger location south of the downtown five years ago. He sold the new business to his son, Todd, who now runs Jimmy’s Shop ‘n’ Save Supermarket.

Aside from an apartment upstairs, the original building has been vacant ever since the original Jimmy’s closed five years ago.

West agreed that there is a need for food in the area.

“Bingham falls in line with being one of the poorest communities,” he said.

Bingham First Selectman Steve Steward said there still are some employers in town, including a couple of stores, a sandwich shop, a motor sports supply store, the fish hatchery, the school district and motels and recreation companies, but not everyone is getting by.

“It is a definite need in the area, with a high elderly population and many folks who just can’t quite make it through the month on their budgets,” he said of the need for a food pantry. “It is definitely a plus, and we hope it will do well and continue into the future. The town also will help fund it at our Town Meeting if the voters approve to do so.”

Steward said the current tax rate is $17.50 for every $1,000 in property valuation. The town also gets about $88,000 annually from community benefit agreements with the company that erected wind turbines in Bingham and other towns along Route 16.

The thrift store and food pantry occupy about 3,000 square feet of space in the former Jimmy’s Market with a storage and receiving area and entrances on the north side of the building.

Volunteers from St. Peter’s include Tibbetts and West, along with Aldea LeBlanc, Sonny and Marsha Lagasse, Carolyn Fultz, Rose Henderson and Richard Gondek.

“We don’t have titles,” LeBlanc said. “We’re a group.”

Fr. John Mazzei is the pastor of the parish, Tibbetts said, noting that the church had a food pantry for years in the rectory. The pantry closed three years ago when the rectory was sold, forcing those in need of such services to go to the pantry in Solon, some eight miles to the south on Route 201.

“There was nobody living in the rectory any more so the parish decided to sell it,” Tibbetts said. “They had to move the food pantry out.”

Overall dwindling enrollment in area Catholic churches has forced churches to join together in parishes that cover a wide area. St. Peter’s is now part of Christ the King Parish, which also covers Notre Dame de Lourdes church in Skowhegan and St. Sebastian in Madison. One priest serves Mass at all three churches on Saturday and Sunday.

Aldea LeBlanc, who lives in Madison, said she got involved because she didn’t want people in the Bingham area to go without food.

“Even though I’m working on the thrift shop, my main focus will be the food pantry when it opens,” LeBlanc said.

Some of the food will be donated from the new Jimmy’s Market, while the bulk of the food will be coming from Good Shepherd. Letters also will be sent to area towns and area businesses to raise money for the food pantry and to the Somerset County commissioners, who control Concord Township.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture also will be contacted for government cheese and other food programs.

“From what I understand, there are at least 40 families that are going to Solon to get food because we have not had a food pantry here,” Tibbetts said. “There’s probably a lot more than that. There’s a lot of low income families here, a lot of elderly people and there is no employment here.”

To qualify for the food, people must be residents of the area towns and may have to meet income guidelines.

The thrift store will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday and Saturday.

The clothing in the thrift store first came from the Madison shop at St. Sebastian’s church and since has seen donations of blue jeans, sweaters, hats, dresses — even dishes and knick-knacks, LeBlanc said. There are racks of baby and children’s clothing as well, she said.

“They sent up over 200 big bags of clothing,” she said. “We’ve gone all through it, separating winter and summer clothes, and we’ve had donations of clothing racks and shelves from Christ the King Parish.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow