As the temperatures dip, we bundle up, turn up our thermostats, and brace ourselves for a long winter. But with the price of home heating oil almost $1.50 more a gallon than it was last year, many of us are facing sticker shock when getting our bills. For people already struggling to make ends meet, these large expenses often can mean the choice between buying food or heating their homes. Washington County already has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state. And faced with these choices, many more decide to skip their next meal. Because of this increased and continuing need the Mission pantry is expanding its hours to be open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We have opted to expand the food pantry hours to make it more accessible to community members,” explains Interim Downeast Director Jenny Jones. “We noticed patrons needing access beyond the hours we originally had, and we have the capacity to meet those needs.” In 2022, the Mission’s food pantry served 611 unique households. On average every month the pantry serves around 450 individuals and the number of people visiting the pantry multiple times a month has increased in the past year.
This increase in patrons is due in part to an increased need in the community; however, the Mission also wants the pantry to be a more welcoming and user-friendly place. By turning it into a low-barrier, choice pantry, the grocery store-like environment lets users browse the shelves and take what they need. There are also no limits to how much a patron can put into their shopping bag. Allowing visitors to evaluate their own needs—based on their home life, family size, and meal routines—instills independence and a greater sense of autonomy. The increased hours also give pantry users more freedom to drop in their own schedule. Parents can shop after picking up their children after school and seniors do not have to worry about scheduling appointments during pantry hours.
Mission staff also chat with patrons and get to know them, sometimes setting aside food they know someone enjoys and finding out if they need other support. If Megan Smith, Food Security Program Coordinator, finds out that a family is living in an older house that needs updates, she can direct them to the Mission’s Housing Rehabilitation program; or if their child attends the Mission’s EdGE afterschool program and may need help paying a bill, she can refer them to Stephanie Moores, Community and Family Engagement Program Manager.
This holistic approach to food security has given the Mission greater insight into what is most important to the community it serves as well as identify areas for improvement in its programming
For more information on the food pantry and the Mission’s food security programs here.