HARMONY — There are fewer than 1,000 people who live in Harmony, a small town with frontage on The Narrows of Great Moose Lake, and it’s perhaps most famous for being the setting and filming location for Stephen King’s short story “Graveyard Shift.”

But as with many small towns in rural Maine, Harmony has fallen on hard times. According to data from City-Date.com, just over 10 percent of the town’s residents over the age of 25 are unemployed. Nearly 31 percent of the town’s residents live below the poverty line, much higher than the state rate of roughly 13 percent. And as is often coupled with hard times, there is food insecurity. In a word, hunger.

But the small town has not had an active, fully functioning food pantry. The nearest food pantry was nearly 30 miles away in Hartland. The closest thing to a reliable, low-income, nutritional food source operated in the elementary school, where bags of food were provided to students. But after family demand kept rising, a community organization known as the Patriarchs Club, which runs the Harmony Free Fair, decided to focus their efforts on establishing a more consistent food source for those who needed it.

The all volunteer Harmony Patriarchs Club, established in 1947 as a community betterment program, has over the years contributed money toward the purchase of the town’s first fire truck, construction of the Recreation Park, and the acquisition of Harmony’s first and second ambulances.

The group has now formed a new organization known as Harmony Cares: Neighbors Helping Neighbors Food Program, which is run in an old building on 20 Main St. next to the elementary school.

Co-director of the program Mel Chadbourne said the effort will help families in Harmony and Wellington. The program hasn’t officially launched yet. An open house will be held on May 13 and the food program will open officially on May 20. Chadbourne said the group anticipates at least 50 families coming to their building to make use of the program.

“If we have more, I guess I’m going shopping,” she joked.

According to Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, the food insecurity rate in Somerset County, where Harmony resides, is 16 percent, which means about 8,270 people living in Somerset County don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, based on 2015 figures. Eighty percent of people in Somerset County are below the threshold for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other nutrition programs. Neighboring Kennebec County has a food insecurity rate of more than 14 percent for a total of 17,440 food insecure people. Franklin County has a 14 percent food insecurity rate for a total of 4,270 people.

Overall, the state of Maine faces a food insecurity rate of nearly 16 percent, which affects more than 200,000 people, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Maine ranks ninth in the country and first in New England for food insecurity. Statistics show that one of five children in Maine are food insecure, roughly 21 percent of children across the state, which puts Maine first in New England and 16th overall in the country in terms of child food insecurity.

The food at Harmony Cares comes completely from donations. It ranges from basic goods like soup and cereal all the way to locally produced breads, hamburger and produce. Donations come from local individuals, businesses and farms.

As Chadbourne said, “It’s through the generosity of the town that this will work.”

Chadbourne said she knows first hand how generous the people of Harmony can be. In 2015, the barn at her farm, Rough Cut Acres, was destroyed in a fire. She said the community rallied around her family to help.

“That’s the way this community works,” she said.

The building Harmony Cares calls home has had many roles over the years. It was once the site of a church that burned to the ground. Then the site became home to a chicken coup. Over time it became the school library. Most recently, it was home to a Veterans of Foreign Wars center. The building was eventually given to the Patriarchs Club, and the club decided to start the food program there.

“When people realized how much this was needed, volunteers came,” said Amanda Patterson, the fundraising, advertising and correspondence chair of Harmony Cares. And in addition to volunteer hours, Chadbourne said they are accepting cash donations.

What sets Harmony Cares apart from other food bank programs is how people choose their food. Instead of receiving a set box of goods, people coming to Harmony Cares can walk up and down the aisles and choose what they want.

Chadbourne said this will produce less waste over time, as participants won’t be sent home with food they might not want or eat.

Participants will also be allowed to take a certain number of items to ensure there is enough for everyone. Chadbourne said the overall effect is to make it feel more like shopping.

“We don’t want it to feel like a handout,” she said.

Also setting Harmony Cares apart from other food banks is how often it will be open. Instead of being just a once a month event, the Harmony program will be open four separate times a month for a total of eight hours. Rodena Clowry, co-director of the program, said the program will also always be open in an emergency. There are forms for users to sign, and clients should meet federal Emergency Food Assistance Program standards, but Chadbourne said anyone who needs help will get it.

Because it’s reliant on volunteers, Clowry said there will be an anonymity to the program. In a small town, residents tend to know each other, and Clowry said there might be a stigma attached to needing to go to a food pantry. But because it’s volunteer driven through the Patriarchs Club, anyone seen there could just as easily be a volunteer as someone needing assistance.

“Nobody wants to need help,” Clowry said.

It’s not just food the program provides. Clothes are available as well, and even things like pet food. Chadbourne said that if families don’t have to spend their money on those items, they can afford more food.

Beyond filling the old building with food, the group has been working on getting grant funding to replace the roof of the building, upgrade the windows, get more freezers, widen the doors and create a ramp for clients in wheelchairs. Clowry said everyone should have the opportunity to get to the pantry and not be kept out by the stairs.

In addition to the open house Saturday and the launch on May 20, the group is planning other community events to benefit the pantry. Patterson said a pot luck dinner will be held at the school on June 3 with donations benefiting the pantry. A yard sale with goods donated by the community will be held on July 29 and a softball tournament will be held on Aug. 19. Patterson said these activities will help make the home of Harmony Cares a “community minded building.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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