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CUMBERLAND — Three years after it was founded, the Cumberland Food Bank is finding it needs to be stronger than ever.
The pantry serves an average of more than 30 families from Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Pownal and New Gloucester a week, according to President Tom Gruber, who is also a town councilor.
Families can only shop there every other month, so the pantry may serve up to 80 families in all, Gruber added.
The pantry – open Fridays from 2-6 p.m. – is at the back of Town Hall at 290 Tuttle Road, in what had previously served as two garage bays on the ground floor.
First-time customers are asked for their address and identification, since the Food Bank prefers to focus its service on the four towns it covers. Volunteers direct people from outside the area to pantries in their own communities.
The bank offers food baskets for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Eighty-seven families have so far signed up for Thanksgiving baskets, up from last year’s 75, Gruber said Nov. 13. There is no deadline to sign up for holiday help.
Pulling the baskets together has been challenging this year, perhaps due to the warmer-than-usual weather putting the holiday season off in some people’s minds.
“I think Thanksgiving’s going to catch people off guard,” he said.
Thanks to generous contributions, the Food Bank is strong financially, allowing it to purchase items that are not donated, Gruber said.
The Food Bank is helping make Christmas that much more special for those in need. Along with the food basket, it is offering Christmas trees, clothing and gifts for children.
The pantry also gets a helping hand from sources like Hannaford Bros. in Yarmouth and Wayside Food Programs in Portland, Gruber said.
He noted the time and energy that volunteers put in behind the scenes at the pantry, readying the place for business.
“I can’t tell you how many people have their fingers in it, working so hard,” Gruber explained. “Those are the real heroes on this thing.”
But it’s an effort made all the more worthwhile when the pantry’s customers come in each Friday and “shop” for items like they would in a grocery store, Gruber said.
“You get to see happy faces, and it’s rewarding,” he added.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of volunteering at the Food Bank is seeing former customers who now want to lend a hand and pay it forward.
“There are families that have used the food pantry, and things are getting better for them, (so) they come back and they bring food, or they come back to say they want to volunteer, or they just give us a nice thank you card, and it says ‘Thank you for getting us through this struggle,'” Gruber said. “Those are the things that make you feel good.”
Items can be dropped off at Town Hall during business hours. Call the office at 829-2205 for more information. To request help, apply in person when the pantry is open.
Joyce Baughan, at left, and Rosemary Goranites are among the volunteers who keep the Cumberland Food Bank running.