READFIELD — Ashley Donahue earns her family’s single income.

On paper, her salary is too high to qualify for assistance. But in her wallet, her salary is not enough.

“I literally pay my bills and that is it,” said Donahue, who is a mother of three children, ages 13, 6 and 2. “It makes it difficult to feed five people.”

But at the Maranacook Area Food Pantry, Donahue’s income is not questioned. In fact, no questions are asked. 

“We want anyone to be able to access it,” said Mary Ellen Tracy, coordinator of the pantry located at Maranacook Middle School. 

The pantry has two locations. The primary, larger location is at the middle school. The second, which was the first one established, is at the high school.

Tracy said that the Maranacook Area Food Pantry Committee, of which she is a member, made the decision to not ask families for personal information. 

“We want anyone to be able to access it,” she said. “Families are in tenuous situations.”

Donahue likes that.

“They do not judge you,” said Donahue. “They understand situations with people and their families.” 

 

FUNDING THE EFFORT

Tracy acknowledged that by not filing paperwork with the state, the food pantry does not qualify for state or federal financial backing, or help from the Good Shepherd Food Bank. Getting donations and financial help, however, is not a problem. 

Henry Webb, left, and teacher Dixie Bonnevie talk about which shelf to put groceries as students sort food pantry donations on Tuesday at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“We are well-funded,” said Tracy. “We have had tremendous community support.” 

She said there are three major fundraisers that benefit the pantry. 

In October, the Maranacook campus holds Make a Difference Day, where sixth- to 12th-graders hold a food and money drive. Proceeds collected are divided evenly between the food pantries across Regional School Unit 38, which serves the towns of Manchester, Mount Vernon, Readfield and Wayne. 

During the holiday season, the alternative education students at the middle school host a schoolwide penny challenge to see which grade can raise the most money. 

And, in the spring, the seventh-graders conduct a walkathon on the Rail Trail between Augusta and Gardiner to raise money from sponsors.

“These have been stunningly successful,” said Tracy. “(They know they) are making a difference for kids and their families, who are right here.”

Tracy said there have also been very generous donations from the community. 

Nancy Perkins represents the Readfield United Methodist Church on Kents Hill on the pantry committee. The congregation collects donations of food and money for the Maranacook pantry as one of its outreach missions. 

“The church does a collection with a box with a list of what is needed,” said Perkins. “We have a giving congregation. We ask and they provide.” 

Donations can also be made directly to the middle school by mailing a financial contribution to the school — in care of Tracy — or by dropping off physical donations at the main office. Toiletries and hygiene products, paper goods, school supplies, laundry detergent and other items are also accepted with food. 

 

A UNIQUE LOCATION

Tracy believes that the pantry is unique from others because it is located inside the school. 

“I have not heard of other schools in our area (having food pantries),” she said. “Some schools have backpack programs, but I do know of many schools with access on site.” 

Maranacook also has a backpack program, which allows students to discreetly bring food home. 

“People think if they can’t feed their kids, they’re kids will be taken away,” said Tracy. “We do not ask questions; we do not write names down. We will not tell anyone who is using the pantry and who is not.”

Perkins said that she wishes more people in need would use the pantry. 

“We know they need the food,” she said. “It is with great joy we can provide this food.”

Cam Foster, left, and Josh Hall shelve canned goods as students sort food pantry donations Tuesday at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The food pantry was first established at the high school around 10 years ago by Sandy Hunter and was called Sandy’s Place. A school nurse there for 25 years, Hunter kept snacks on hand for kids who were hungry.

“As they came in, you get to know them,” she said. “You learn that Dad is out of a job, and things are just tough.”

Tracy, who has been teaching math, English language arts, social studies and science for 35 years, saw that there was a need, too, at the middle school.

“I started working with a family eight years ago that was in huge need,” she said, “and it really brought home what a huge difference you can make in the life of a family and children, if you can do simple things to relieve the stress.”

Discovering a student needed food, Tracy started taking them grocery shopping after school. This developed the idea for a pantry at the middle school, too, in order to reach more students. A few years ago, she started working with the maintenance staff to make space in the basement.

“I would love to see other schools follow this model,” Tracy said. “Not only has it empowered our students, but they feel more connected to serving the community.”

Both pantries are housed with clothing pantries — the Black Bear Boutique at the high school and Vicky’s Closet at the middle school. Just like with the food pantries, the clothing is open to anyone, and items have no cost. 

“I was able to get ski pants for him,” said Donahue. “They carry everything you could think of.”

Donations to the Black Bear Boutique and the Vicky’s Closet can be made by contacting either school first and seeing if there is a need for the particular donations.

The pantry is primarily used by families who have children attending the Maranacook Community Schools, but it serves anyone in the RSU 38 district. 

For security at the school, the pantry is open by appointment. Tracy said that during school hours — and occasionally after school depending on staff availability — families can stop in and be brought to the pantry. 

The pantry at the middle school has summer hours, and has been open one day a week the last two summers.


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