Anne Hodgdon recalls a woman in her 50s who visited St. John Food Pantry in Winslow one wintery day, her bald head wrapped in a kerchief.

“She asked if she could give me a hug,” said Hodgdon, the pantry coordinator. “She said, ‘You don’t realize what a difference you made in my life today. I have cancer, and without you guys, I wouldn’t have any food. Thank you so much for being here.'”

Hodgdon and the woman cried together.

“That’s when you know everything you’re doing is so worth it,” Hodgdon, 63, said.

She told me that story Wednesday as she and pantry administrator Byron Brooks, 65, sat in the basement of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Monument Street, where the pantry has been housed since the 1950s — more than 60 years.

They must move the operation and have been searching in vain for another space. The pantry is not officially affiliated with the church, which has been donating the church’s 40-by-18-foot basement room.

“We are told it would be in our best interest if we looked for another location that was big enough for us because we’d outgrown it, and because of safety issues, and because it’s not handicapped accessible,” Hodgdon said.

For more than two years, she and Brooks have looked at vacant spaces, called people and talked to property owners. They are desperate to find an approximate 150-by-100-foot home and parking area in Winslow for the pantry, which is open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month. It supplies food to 360 to 420 people a month.

Byron Brooks stocks the food pantry with Anne Hodgdon in the basement of St. John’s church in Winslow on Wednesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We had a person that came down today from Bangor,” Brooks said. “They come from Solon, Skowhegan, Pittsfield, Newport, Winthrop. We have a lot of people that had to sell their homes, move into an apartment, downsize, people that lost their jobs or got divorced. A lot of people break down and cry — a lot of people.”

The pantry doesn’t require clients to meet any specific criteria, Hodgdon said.

“Our theory is,  if someone’s hungry, feed them, no matter where they live,” she explained. “We feed anybody and everybody.”

Hodgdon has been pantry coordinator since 2009 when her uncle, Robert Veilleux, gave up the position and handed her the keys. For Hodgdon, who has attended St. John church for many years, it is a labor of love.

“My husband passed away from cancer at 47 and I just needed to stay busy,” she recalled. “My family for many years has been doing stuff for people. It was instilled in us. I’ve always had a passion to feed hungry people. No one should be hungry.”

Byron Brooks stocks the food pantry inside St. John’s church in Winslow on Wednesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Brooks has stage 3 melanoma. In March, he had a mass the size of a football removed from his side. He had worked many years as manager of the former Ames department store in Waterville and served in the Maine Army National Guard for 23 years. A heart attack forced him to retire. He has also volunteered with the Boys Scouts and coached T-ball, baseball and softball.

“I’ve had open-heart surgery, pacemakers put in, several heart attacks, diabetes — I’m a regular science project by now,” he joked. “God has a plan. I don’t know what it is and I just try to stay out of the way, but I really believe he has a plan for me.”

He and Hodgdon, plus more than a dozen volunteers, hope that plan includes someone stepping forward to offer a home for the food pantry, which survives on small monetary donations, fundraisers, food from the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They plan to eventually change the name to Winslow Helping Hands Food Pantry.

Brooks isn’t going to give up the search — and the fight.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned out of this is, I have exactly everything I need and I’m grateful, rather than wanting this and wanting that,” he said. “I’m much more fortunate than a lot of people coming in here.”

Hodgdon echoed his sentiments: “It humbles me to be here and I’m very grateful because it reminds me of what I have.”

They asked that anyone who can help the food pantry effort call Hodgdon at 680-6422 0r Brooks at 649-7255, or email him at [email protected]

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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