CHERRYFIELD, ME – Maine’s Downeast coast is exceptionally beautiful. But winter winds there can be brutal. Last week, for example, winds collapsed a roof at Narraguagus Bay Health Home in Milbridge, at the mouth of the Narraguagus River.
As of this writing, all the Milbridge facility’s residents have returned. NEWS CENTER Maine reported that when the roof first collapsed, help arrived from many communities, and 41 nursing home residents were evacuated to other nursing care facilities. There were no reported injuries.
Megan Smith, the Mission’s Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator delivered to the residents an initial 41 blankets, with crochet blankets, lap blankets, and other amenities to follow.
“I am so happy to hear that the residents are back. They must be so happy to be in familiar surroundings,” said Megan.
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – Two weeks into the New Year, Island Health Director Sharon Daley, RN noticed on Facebook a call for help from Terry Staples at Swan’s Island Bread of Life Food Pantry. While no one was on duty, the pantry freezer quit. “The end result,” wrote Mr. Staples, “was the loss of several hundred pounds of meat.” It will take time to replace the freezer, said Terry. Meanwhile, “if you are…grocery shopping and…could pickup a couple extra meats for us it would be a great help…,” he said.
Sharon asked Mission President John Zavodny and Downeast Director Mel Adams if the Mission could help the Swan’s Island food pantry. The answer was: Yes.
Mission Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith partnered with Downeast Campus Facilities Manager Scott Shaw. They identified ten frozen turkeys and 210 pounds of additional frozen meats which Scott Shaw delivered 45-miles from Cherryfield to Northeast Harbor.
Meanwhile, Terry Staples told Sharon Daley the mail boat to Swan’s Island from Bass Harbor would transport the meat one hour over the water if the Mission could get the meat to the ferry by 11:00 am Monday, January 24.
On the 24th, Sharon Daley and Mel Adams received an email from Megan Smith. She said, “The frozen meat and turkeys are on the ferry heading to Swans Island…. I am so glad that we could help Terry and the Swans Island pantry.”
CHERRYFIELD, ME – Imagine not having steady access to food in order to live a healthy, active life. That’s what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “food insecurity.” According to the nation’s “largest hunger relief organization,” Feeding America, 12.4% of Maine’s population is food insecure. In Washington County, home to the Mission’s food pantry, the reported 5,200 food insecure people constitute 16.5% of the county population.
In Spring 2020, Covid regulations forced an almost complete reinvention of how the Mission food pantry functioned. Patrons placed their orders by phone, driving to the pantry where Mission staff and volunteers loaded the pre-boxed orders into car trunks and truck beds. Staff and volunteers home delivered pantry orders to patrons living too far away, or who didn’t feel safe leaving their homes.
At that time the Mission began new or expanded partnerships. with area nonprofits such as Mano en Mano. Working with a $10,000 grant from Good Shepherd Food Bank, the food center helped distribute culturally-specific food for local families and migrant workers. Together, Mano en Mano, Vazquez Mexican Takeout Restaurant, and Downeast Community Partners used the Mission food pantry to distribute 165 boxes of food to 347 people.
As the food pantry grew in new directions, adjusting for ever-changing Covid-19 regulations, the Mission started making plans to grow food security services. Today, Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith and Family and Community Resource Coordinator Stephanie Moores, are overseeing the creation of the Mission Food Center.
For example, after an interior/exterior building makeover this year, the pantry is running more like a grocery store.
“People just love that they get to come in, walk around, pick the items they want,” explains Megan. “The feedback has been tremendous. Pantry staff get to talk to have conversations with these people. It gives patrons more dignity and a place to feel comfortable.”
In addition, Megan says, “We don’t have limits on how many times people can come in, or on what they can take. Patrons can pick their own meat, produce, and shelf staples.”
That policy, says Megan, works toward the Mission’s goal for the food center as “a place for people to get food, and a place where people feel welcome.” With a welcoming “grocery store” atmosphere, Megan went on, “we can talk with shoppers.”
That’s important particularly when food insecurity is not the only issue a patron is trying to resolve. “It might not just be food insecurities patrons are wrestling with. It might be heating oil or some other issue,” reminds Megan. “And if these things come up we can help them. They don’t have to go someplace else to find another resource. It’s all at this one place,” she says.
With Washington County’s huge meal gap in mind, Megan says, “There’s always opportunity to let more people know about the resource. We’d love to grow, to be a mobile food pantry for communities without them. I hope we can show other pantries in the area how to become low-barrier pantries,” she says.
The food pantry is blessed with its long-term food supply partnerships with Good Shepherd Food Bank, Walmart (Ellsworth), Shaw’s (Ellsworth), Bayside Shop ‘n Save (Milbridge), and Folklore Farm (Cherryfield).
Megan agrees, but says that goodwill extends to the community. “People calling us and asking, ‘What do you need at the pantry that you don’t have? Especially for items people don’t think about. Like coffee and tea. They’re a huge part of people’s lives. We can’t always buy those and they’re not always donated,” she says.
In sum, says Megan, “The whole community is a huge partner.” And that bodes very well for the food pantry’s prospects for year 2022. To learn more or become involved, visit our Food Security Program.
CHERRYFIELD, ME — In July 2021 we changed the Mission Family Food Center into a place where our patrons could choose their foods. Our choice pantry offers patrons dignity and cuts down on food wasted. The pantry now has the feel and look of a grocery store complete with signs to showcase available foods.
The feedback is all positive. People tell us, “This is wonderful.” “Thank you for doing this, it is amazing.” “I feel better about coming to the food pantry.” “I don’t have to feel bad about throwing food away because now I can get only what I am going to use.” “Thank you for having an organic section.”
Mission Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith said, “I look forward to coming to work each day knowing this change has made a huge difference in how our patrons view coming to the food pantry. Also, it gives me an opportunity to engage with patrons and get to know them better.”
It’s Thank you Thursday. Today’s shout out of Mission love goes to friends and Maine retailers: Marden’s and Renys
Mission Community Resource Coordinator Megan Smith tells us, “For years Marden’s and Renys in Ellsworth have collaborated with our Christmas Program. We provide gift tags to both stores. Each tag has a child’s name and a few gift ideas. We hope shoppers will grab a gift tag and help fulfill a child’s Christmas wish.
“This picture, taken at Marden’s in Ellsworth, shows how well the collaboration works,” said Megan.
Renys: A Maine Adventure, a chain of 16 department stores throughout Maine, has been in business since 1949. It’s headquarters is in Newcastle.
Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, an independent family-run chain of 14 retail stores in Maine, was founded in 1964. Marden’s home office is in Waterville.
Thank you, Marden’s. Thank you, Renys. And thank you to the generous customers at both stores.