The Universalist Unitarian Church on Silver Street in Waterville is resuming its Evening Sandwich Program this week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — A sandwich program that closed temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic is starting up again this week on a limited basis as people in the faith community have learned clients are missing the free, takeout food.

The Universalist-Unitarian Church’s Evening Sandwich Program at 69 Silver St. will be open from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, according to its director, Maili Bailey.

“We are going to have a table outside and each person will get four sandwiches — two bologna and cheese and two peanut butter and jelly,” Bailey said Monday. “The Waterville Food Bank will give us fruits and vegetables so we’ll put that in to the bags also. We’ll just put it on the table and people will take it, so there’s no contact.”

The Sandwich Program, which Bailey started 30 years ago, drew six people on its first day, she recalled. The numbers increased after that.

“It wasn’t unheard of to serve over 300 meals in one day,” she said. “That’s not 300 people, it’s 300 meals. Each person would get four meals. Our reasoning was, they’re bringing food home to families. We don’t ask questions. Nobody has to qualify. Nobody has to tell us anything. They just walk up.”

The program closed down in March when the pandemic hit, as volunteers were in their 70s and 80s and their relatives urged them not to continue as they feared for their health, according to Bailey. The program started up again in June, but closed down again.

The number of people coming to the program decreased. Some speculated that they were receiving more food stamps during the pandemic and were getting checks from the government, so they had more resources to purchase food. Bailey said it could be that they were afraid to come because of the virus.

The sandwich program relies on donations to survive and receives bread, fruits and vegetables from the Waterville Food Bank on Pleasant Street. Volunteers at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Eustis Parkway will make the sandwiches on Fridays and deliver them to the Unitarian Church, and two volunteers will make sandwiches in the kitchen at the church on Tuesdays, according to Bailey. Bailey will go to the kitchen on Tuesdays and Fridays and place the sandwiches, with fruits and vegetables, in bags on a table outside the church.

Before the pandemic started, the sandwich program was open six days a week, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and in the winter from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. People would come into the church basement where the kitchen is located and choose what they wanted for fruits and vegetables. When the pandemic struck, they were required to stay 6 feet apart and come into the building one at a time.

They will not be able to choose what they want with the new scenario, as volunteers want to make sure people are safe and there is no contact between them, according to Bailey.

“Our first day is tomorrow and we’re hoping we can work it so it works,” she said Monday. “It’s going to be cold for the volunteers, but our relatives don’t want us to do it. This is what we decided — we’ll put the food outside.”

Earlier this year, the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen on Pleasant Street closed due to the pandemic and because the church building was being sold. The soup kitchen had served hot meals for 40 years.

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