PALERMO — For a local community center and food pantry on Turner Ridge Road, a pilot program with Habitat for Humanity continues to expand the center’s potential.

That’s because Habitat volunteers have begun working on a new ramp for the pantry, which will make the building accessible to people with disabilities who need wheelchairs or other such devices. On a brisk Sunday morning, a handful of workers were continuing woodwork and expanding a deck area, to replace a ramp that had been falling apart.

Phil White Hawk, the chief financial officer of the nonprofit Palermo Community Center run by the Living Communities Foundation, said Habitat volunteers were providing all the labor, while the foundation was picking up the cost for the materials. Not only will the new ramp make the pantry compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it will also make it easier for families with children in strollers to come use the pantry.

“It’s a great addition to our pantry,” he said.

White Hawk and his wife, the foundation’s president Connie Bellet, have been involved with the foundation for a number of years. The foundation sponsors the food pantry, and runs a nearby community garden which provides the produce to the pantry in the warmer months.

“This has been a lot of work to get this far,” White Hawk said.


Sam Cantlin, volunteer carpenter from Consider It Carpentry, said on Sunday they were working at reinforcing the deck. On Saturday, he said volunteers had been digging in order to pour cement, which he said was “chilly,” considering it had been one of the coldest days so far.

“We’re busy, everybody is busy,” he said.

Cantlin said this had been his first time working with Habitat, and said it was a good experience.

Earlier this year, Meg Klingelhofer, executive director of the Waldo County Habitat for Humanity, said her organization got involved in building the ramp because it wanted to show the community it does more than just build houses.

A house, once finished, benefits a single family, while updating access to the food pantry will have a more widespread benefit to those in need in the area.

White Hawk said the food pantry is as busy as ever, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. That means there are more people in need of the services, which is only open on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to noon. He said they feed about 50 families, and they’re offerings are “growing all the time.”


“More and more demand is place upon it,” he said.

He said they do not have a set date when the ramp will be finished, but said the hope is sometime before winter sets in.

The Community Center, food pantry and community garden were at the center of a long dispute with the neighboring Malcolm Glidden American Legion Post 163, which owns the land on which the garden grows and that has been leasing it to the center. They lease the land from the Legion post for their mobile home — and the Palermo Community Garden — on Turner Ridge Road for $1 a year. The lease is paid through 2020, when it expires. Together, the couple manage the garden that was started 18 years ago, providing organic food for those local families in need. They also run a number of community services and events at the gardens and in the Community Center. And they have a mobile home there with a storage shed.

Apparently the land was donated to both entities — the center and the Legion — by its former owner, John Potter, who is now dead. The lease, effective in 1999, allowed the couple to put a mobile home and storage shed on the Legion property.

In 2011 the Legion mounted an offensive against the center and its garden and fought to have the lease declared unenforceable in court, but the offensive failed. Belfast District Court Judge Patricia G. Worth ruled in favor of Bellet and White Hawk, finding that the lease is not void or unenforceable, and that the Legion had “failed to demonstrate that the lease is unconscionable” — “unconscionable” apparently meaning, in this context, “not right” or “unreasonable.”

In 2013 the Legion mounted another challenge, this time sending Bellet and White Hawk a letter saying the legionnaires planned to clear the garden site to build a parking lot. The letter instructed them to remove the shed, gardens and other property before construction was to begin.


The parking lot was never built, but the garden faced another hurdle this year, Bellet and White Hawk claimed the Legion had laid siege to the garden, refusing to provide them with water, even though, according to the lease, the Legion is required to provide water, power and septic connections.

Until then, a nearby neighbor involved with the center’s foundation hooked Bellet and White Hawk up to his well, but that house had been sold and the new owners turned the water off. White Hawk, who has claimed the Legion has been trying to destroy the garden for over a decade, said the center was forced to go back to the Legion for water.

In response, White Hawk and Bellet had their own well dug this year. White Hawk on Sunday said getting the well was a struggle, but it was finally dug this fall. He said they now need to figure out how to rig a transfer switch for the well in the center.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

Twitter: @colinoellis

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