Caroline Karnes puts food into a client’s pickup truck May 8 at Faith Food Bank in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Bob Moore, executive director of the Augusta Food Bank, said staff has had to scramble at times to keep the pantry balanced with food during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s been a couple times that it kept me up at night,” he said.

Other food pantry executives said they are scrambling to get certain items for their customers and have been blown away by the community support their organizations have received.

Moore, along with two other directors of central Maine food pantries, said need has plateaued after a marked increase caused by the coronavirus. Moore said the Augusta Food Bank is currently serving 350 families, or about 800 people, which is about the same number of customers it served before the pandemic started.

One of those customers is George Browning, a 64-year-old veteran who lives on Summer Street. Browning, who said he was recovering from a heart attack and a surgery to have a stent installed, said the food bank has been delivering vital food to him each month.

‘I’ve been home here for the last three months,” he said. “It’s 100% perfect for me because it keeps me from being nervous (about contracting the virus). It’s a serious thing we’ve got here in the country. It’s no joke; people are getting sick.”

Browning said he receives money from Social Security and through veteran’s benefits, which is a little more than the threshold to allow him food stamps. He said he makes enough to cover his rent, but after that he is “pinching pennies.” Browning said the food bank and its staff and volunteers have enabled him to focus on his recovery and not worry about having food available.

“You just can’t say enough for them all,” he said of the volunteers and food bank staff. “They all got big hearts down there.”

Esther Metzler, left, and Sheila Knowles pack boxes May 1 at Faith Food Bank in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Like shoppers will see at grocery stores, some items may not be readily available for food pantries. Some examples of hard-to-find items, Moore said, are peanut butter and canned pasta, which are staples in the Augusta Food Bank’s KidzPak, which contain six meals. Moore said he ended up striking paydirt at a local Hannaford.

“I happened (into) Hannaford in South China and they had a mountain of canned pasta,” he said, adding that he spoke to management to OK a large purchase. “We ended up buying 20 cases … and that’s about a seven-week supply.”

Despite shortages of some items, Moore said the area grocery stores that donate to the food bank have been consistent with their donations.

Unlike the Augusta Food Bank, an increase number of customers has been reported by the Hallowell Food Bank and the Faith Food Pantry in Gardiner.

Dale Morrell moves a box of food onto a cart so he can take it out to his car and make deliveries May 8 at Faith Food Bank in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Betty Morrell, director of the Faith Food Pantry in Gardiner, said there has been an influx of customers since the pandemic started, but some customers stopped coming after stimulus checks were distributed. She said some customers also stop coming because they believe other people may need the food more than them.

Jeanne Langsdorf, the director of the Hallowell Food Bank, said her organization has been giving a free box of food to all comers and will continue to do so.

On Tuesday, Langsdorf said Good Shepherd Food Bank dropped off a large shipment of meat, which is the first time in “a while” the Hallowell Food Bank offered meat to its customers. She said it’s been a challenge to keep food for their customers “well-balanced,” but people have been dropping food off at her home to keep the shelves stocked.

“We’re going week to week and as long as we have food, we are going to serve everyone who comes,” Langsdorf said. “When we get really low and we start worrying, some other source seems to appear and help fill our shelves again.”

Jeff Mansir walks past a social distancing reminder sign as he carries food out to a client’s vehicle May 8 at Faith Food Bank in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Morrell said she has had trouble getting dish soap, toothpaste and shampoo for her customers. She said other items had to be purchased at higher costs than normal, like peanut butter, which she found at Big Lots instead of her usual vendor that offers better prices.

Morrell said a refrigerator malfunctioned earlier this month, which forced her to buy a new one. Before the fridge arrive, she said, donors had paid for it in full.

“People have been so generous, it’s been unbelievable,” Morrell said. “I came in today and I had about $1,500 in donations on my desk.”

Despite the challenges, she guaranteed that the shelter will always have food to provide its customers, even though she may worry from time to time.

“I worry, but then it seems someone comes through with it,” Morrell said. “We will get the food that we need.”

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