CAPE ELIZABETH — Although it is known as one of the wealthiest communities in the state, not every Cape Elizabeth resident is immune to financial troubles.
When in need of rent, fuel or food assistance, residents can apply for help at the town. When in need of fresh produce, residents can visit Judy’s Produce Pantry.
Judy’s Produce Pantry was created last year by Nancy Miles as a way to honor Judy Simonds, a resident who was passionate about gardening and giving back to those in need. Simonds died a year ago, but Miles, who co-founded the community gardens with Simonds, wants to continue to help those in need.
“Judy coordinated the Plant-A-Row for the Hungry program and was very passionate about giving back to local food pantries,” Miles said. “She was a great supporter of the gardens and a much loved resident.”
While the pantry provides fresh food to some people, Town Clerk Debra Lane said the need for assistance in Cape is very real.
“If people think Cape residents are immune from financial troubles, I am here to tell you that is not true,” she said. “The faces of those who receive general assistance may have changed over the years, but the need is still very real.”
Besides the elderly, she said, families, single mothers and even working couples who can’t make ends meet have requested assistance.
Lane said in 2007 the town budgeted $1,600 for human services, including general assistance, hospice, Day One, and sexual assault and community counseling assistance. This year, that expense reached $45,000, she said.
As a way to help those in need, Miles, Simonds and other volunteers have gathered excess produce from the two community gardens at Gull Crest fields and Maxwell Farm. For nine years they delivered the food to pantries and other local organizations in greater Portland.
In each garden, vegetables were grown in several plots for the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, a Cooperative Extension program formerly known as the Plant-A-Row program. Produce from the extra rows is donated to Judy’s Produce Pantry to help fight hunger in the area.
But Miles said since the Gull Crest community garden is on town-owned property, this year the produce will be made available to Cape residents first. If there is excess, the food will be delivered to nearby pantries, she said.
“We are focusing our effort on local residents because there is a big need here,” she said. “People are struggling with the cost of heating oil, fuel, food and other necessities. The need, even in Cape, is far greater than what is perceived.”
The pantry will be open every Tuesday starting June 21 from 3-5:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 280 Ocean House Road. Miles said residents are not required to fill out any paperwork and there are no limitations or restrictions. She did ask that residents bring a bag with them to carry their produce home.
“This is for anyone in need,” she said. “There are no requirements at all.”
Last year the pantry was able to provide residents with 1,000 pounds of 26 different kinds of vegetables, she said. There were 22 pantry visitors last season and more than 50 families received fresh produce.
“This year we’d like to have 20 to 25 people come every week from June through October,” Miles said. “It is a significant increase, but we hope to get there.”
Miles said there is no limit on the number of visits, and she encouraged people to visit each week. She said during the summer, families may have a hard time feeding their children, who may rely on school lunches for a meal. This is a way to provide healthy options for those with limited resources, she said.
“We hope we can be very successful and reach a lot of Cape residents,” she said. “We are doing good things, helping people and have the support of a lot of members of the community.”
Judy’s Produce Pantry will be open for its second year with the help of community gardeners, local farmers, volunteers and space provided by the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church. From left are the Rev. Ruth Morrison, pantry committee member Tina Harnden, Laura Simonds and pantry coordinator Nancy Miles.