SKOWHEGAN — Lois Hammann says no one should go hungry, and with the brutal cold this winter, some people are either buying oil to keep warm or buying food or medicine.

It’s a toss-up, and a tough one.

“They have to chose, so they go hungry to stay warm, Sad, it’s very sad,” Hammann said Monday.

Hammann, 81, a member of the Women’s Fellowship at the Skowhegan Federated Church on Island Avenue, said her group has organized a once-a-week “bagged meal to go” after they learned that St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen across town at the Catholic church had closed.

Meals can be picked up from 4 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday at Tewksbury Hall, behind the church. This week it’ll be egg salad sandwiches, a bag of potato chips, a box of raisins and some homemade cookies.

Next week, it’s a warm meal of macaroni and cheese.

The soup kitchen, which had operated since the 1970s in the parish hall basement at the Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church on Water Street in Skowhegan, stopped serving hot meals in September, said the Rev. James L. Nadeau, pastor of Christ the King Parish, which has churches in Skowhegan, Madison and Bingham.

He said the church has been unable to find a volunteer coordinator for the soup kitchen, but it continues to give out food to be cooked off premises. Nadeau said the two previous soup kitchen coordinators quit their positions, the most recent one rather abruptly in September. They burn out, he said.

St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen served meals on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4:30 to 5 p.m., but the doors opened at 3:30 p.m. for fellowship time. According to one person commenting on social media, Jodi Taylor, of Skowhegan: “Lots of elderly used it for socializing and a free meal. It will be missed!”

Nadeau said if a family comes to the church office requesting a donation of food, he personally has delivered the goods. He said a family of five arrived at the door just recently and he gave them some frozen chicken to take home, but there is no set schedule for food donations.

In recent years the soup kitchen reportedly served at least 60 meals a week, or more than 3,000 hot meals a year — plus another 100 for Thanksgiving.

A previous church office manager said the church runs the soup kitchen, paying mostly for heat and hot water for about $5,000 a year, but the service to the community is immeasurable. People come to socialize, meet their friends and have a laugh and a good meal, she said.

Hammann said the Federated Church will pick up the slack until the soup kitchen can reopen, if it reopens. She said the Skowhegan Community Food Cupboard continues to give out food, as well, three days a week from their building behind the Mr. Bubbles coin laundry on Waterville Road.

Adding to local woes is the closing of the Community Clothes Closet at the Methodist Church on Dr. Mann Road, because of severe flooding a month or so ago.

For now, it’s all hands on deck to help those in need, Hammann said Monday.

“They’re no longer serving hot meals,” she said of the soup kitchen. “There is no place for anybody to get warm food in Skowhegan anymore. It is my feeling that nobody in this country should go hungry — nobody. It may not be a steak dinner with wine, but I think nobody should go hungry, so this is why it got started. Maybe we can help a little bit.

“It’s not a big meal, but if you’re hungry, it’ll fill your tummy.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported in September 2016 that 16.4 percent of households in Maine, or more than 200,000 people, were “food insecure,” meaning they lack access to enough food to ensure adequate nutrition.

Maine ranks ninth in the nation and first in New England for food insecurity. One in every 5 children in Maine is food insecure, or about 55,000 children, according to Feeding America.

“This is getting us started. We’re flying by the seat of our pants,” Hammann said. “I’m doing this blind because I don’t have anything to follow.”

She said the church has about 10 volunteers to help with the meals. She said people can call her directly at 474-0780 to volunteer or to get a bagged lunch.

She said she has the blessing of the church pastor, the Rev. Mark Tanner, to get the program moving, but the No. 1 thing they need in terms of donations is financial — money to buy food — as well as help bagging lunches and giving out lunches.

Hammann said the Women’s Fellowship has given her some “starter cash” to get the program rolling, and donations are being collected at church on Sunday.

Nadeau, who was transferred to central Maine in August, said the next volunteer coordinator at the soup kitchen doesn’t necessarily have to be Catholic, but the program is a ministry of the church.

“It’s part of the ministry of the parish. They need to understand from a Catholic perspective,” he said. “The reason we offer these meals is not because the people are Catholic. We do it because we’re Catholic and it’s the right thing to do.”

He said the person will be responsible for keeping track of the current food inventory and will solicit and pick up donations from supermarkets and local food vendors, along with completing state and federal paperwork, planning and serving meals and coordinating a volunteer staff.

Anyone interested in the volunteer position can call the church office at 474-2039.

Nadeau said there still is a supply of canned goods and frozen food at the kitchen and that food is given out whenever a family comes by for help. They just don’t do free hot meals any longer.

He said the churches also run a food pantry in the Bingham area.

Nadeau said that with the kitchen being closed, it has given them the opportunity to paint and clean the kitchen and to assess the building itself. He said a dentist still have has offices on the building’s second floor , serving children and adolescent patients.

“We are continuing to work on the building,” he said. “The other thing is we’re doing a strategy session with all our buildings, what we are doing with the buildings. That particular building was built in 1901, and the two top floors now are not functional and they’re beyond repair, so we’re trying to figure out what we’re doing with all of our buildings.”

He said he intends to reopen the soup kitchen but could not offer a time line for that.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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