Sherie Knowlan, left, and Winthrop Food Pantry Executive Director JoEllen Cottrell shuffle green beans between freezers before distribution Thursday at the food pantry. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — The recent closure of the Winthrop Area Rotary Foundation was bittersweet for organizers, marking the end of an era but also resulting in a $10,000 donation for a walk-in freezer at the Winthrop Food Pantry.

“We were overwhelmed by their generosity,” said JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of the food pantry. “It was surprising.”

Patrice Putman, a current member and former president of the Winthrop Area Rotary Club and a founding member of the Winthrop Area Rotary Foundation, said the rotary foundation was around for nearly decade as a nonprofit, allowing for tax-deductible donation. She said the foundation is closing down because of a lack of volunteers in the area.

“I think COVID did that for a lot of service clubs,” she said, adding that the rotary club is still alive and well and serving the community by giving out scholarships, donating to the chamber of commerce, supporting outdoor activities and fireworks. She said their biggest project this year involves providing window inserts to help people stay warm throughout the upcoming winter.

The food pantry currently has seven household size freezers, two refrigerators, and a cooler at a local farm. Cottrell said the household freezers fill up and empty quickly, and when the pantry receives donations from retailers or buy meat from Good Shepherd, they never know exactly how many families are coming or how quickly the freezers will empty.

“It’s kind of a guessing game as to how much space we have,” she said. “And sometimes we have to get very creative and it can be a little bit stressful trying to figure out where we’re going to store it.”


A walk-in freezer, on the other hand, will allow the pantry to buy more case lots when they’re available at good prices and store more meat.

“Our numbers are increasing, as they are everywhere,” she said. “So it’s just going to make our life a lot easier.”

She says the donation could not have come at a better time, as the food pantry moved to a new location last December after spending 36 years in a significantly smaller space.

“We went from 1,900 square feet to 4,000,” she said. “We were bursting at the seams.”

JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry, closes the door on one of the group’s seven freezers as she shifts inventory around before distribution Thursday at the food pantry. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The new space will allow them to provide more food to more families in a more central location at 10 Cross Road, directly across U.S. Route 202 from the entrance to the Winthrop Transfer Station.

And Cottrell says the need for food is constantly growing.


“We’re getting two to three new families every week,” she said, “and we’re serving just over 100 families a month, which translates to about 300 to 350 people. We’re seeing families come in more often than in the past.”

She said the pantry now has about $20,000 raised for the freezer, and that their final goal is $30,000.

“Fundraising is ongoing,” she said, “but we’re hoping within six to 12 months to have it on site.”

JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry, reorganizes inventory in one of the group’s seven freezers before distribution Thursday at the food pantry. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Putman, the founding member of the rotary foundation, said the $10,000 donation had been raised over the course of the foundation’s life through various community events, during which both foundation and club members offered their help.

The money was donated in honor of Charlie Gove, a longtime member of the Winthrop Rotary Club. He and his wife Mary were also actively involved with the Winthrop Food Pantry.

“Both of them were volunteers at the Winthrop Food Pantry for decades,” said Putman, “right up until when Charlie died about a year ago, he was still working for the food pantry at 91, during COVID.”


She said Cottrell specially arranged for Gove to be able to work by himself while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“He worked with us weekly,” Cottrell said of Gove. “He was an incredible man. We miss him dearly.”

Putman said it was clear the foundation’s final donation should be made in honor of Gove.

“He was much, much loved in the community, and by rotary and the food pantry,” said Putman. “So we decided that when we were going to dissolve the foundation that almost all of the money would go in memory of Charlie.”

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