Bath food pantry gears up for Christmas drive

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BATH — After receiving a large amount of Thanksgiving donations, the Bath Area Food Pantry is preparing for its other major year-end food drive: Christmas.

Instead of asking for random donations for those in need, the pantry this fall ran what is called a single-stream drive, Executive Director Kimberly Gates said during a walk through the 807 Middle St. headquarters Nov. 15.

“Morse (High School) collected stuffing, Hair Creations collected juice; all the different places collected one thing,” she said. “Incredibly successful. Bath Savings got 408 cans of soup.”

She plans to follow a similar tack in December for Christmas.

“If there are any organizations, churches or businesses that want to jump on board and collect one thing, reach out to me, and we’ll set you up with an item,” said Gates, who can be reached through the food bank at 737-9289.

That way, the pantry gets exactly what it needs in order to fill a Christmas box for those in need. Plus, miscellaneous food drives often receive items that have expired.

“If we do generic food drives, we get black olives and artichoke hearts,” Gates remarked. “Which I adore, but nobody else does.”

Items to be collected into boxes are due by Friday, Dec. 14. More information on the program can be found at bathfoodbank.org.

She expected to produce about 175 Thanksgiving boxes, and about 135-140 for Christmas, since many churches bridge the gap for the upcoming holiday. While the food bank helps the Bath Lodge of Elks raise money for Thanksgiving donations, the lodge in turn helps the pantry at Christmas, Gates said.

Along with those bolstered at the two holidays, the food bank also opens the doors to its grocery store-style headquarters to feed nearly 250 families each month. Since the pantry’s move this summer from its longtime 150 Congress Ave. location to the former Knights of Columbus space on Middle Street, the number of families has grown by about 50.

“That is a big jump,” Gates said, noting that the more centralized location has attracted a larger clientele. “Any one time, there’s not an empty chair anymore.”

The food pantry’s doors are open to clients Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. The food bank also runs a soup kitchen the same two days, noon-1 p.m., and the pantry is also available to students and caseworkers at separate hours Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2-4 p.m.

“Any one time … there’s not an empty chair when we open,” Gates said; the soup kitchen puts out about 1,000 meals a month, between hot meals, and to-go meals for the days the kitchen isn’t open.

With demand increasing significantly, “it’s been a lot of begging” to keep up supply, she noted. Although she can normally find good deals on items, she’s been forced sometimes to pay retail to expand her stock.

“I’ve been known to go places and clean off shelves when I see a sale,” Gates said. “This sort of stuff, I always promise my friends that this will be on my shelves.”

Money continues to be the best commodity. “Instead of buying that can of beans for a dollar, if they gave me that dollar I can turn it into five” through deals she receives at the Good Shepard Food Bank, among others, she noted.

“It’s just harder to ask for money, for any organization,” Gates added.

Alex Lear can be reached 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Bath Area Food Pantry, run by Kimberly Gates, is collecting items for area families in need through Friday, Dec. 14, for its annual Christmas drive.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.