FREEPORT — Freeport Community Services this weekend will hold its 10th annual Freeze Out, a 24-hour drive to benefit the organization’s food bank and fuel fund.
A small group of hardy volunteers will collect cash donations and non-perishable food items in front of First Parish Church on Main Street from 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, until 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16.
Throughout the day and night, they’ll be joined by the Boy Scouts of Troop 58 and dozens of others who drop by to offer moral and material support.
“I’ve encouraged everybody to come and stay as long as they want,” said Sue Mack, family services coordinator for FCS, and the only person who has spent every Freeze Out overnight on the church lawn. “Just say hello, help us shake the can, ask people for donations.”
This year, Mack said, the need is greater than ever.
FCS has seen a 15 percent increase over last winter in the number of Freeport and Pownal residents using the food bank. There have been a lot of new faces, she said, in part because of cuts to social services including unemployment benefits and the circuit-breaker tax-relief program. A reduction in food donations has compounded matters.
“Right now our food pantry is very, very low,” Town Councilor Melanie Sachs, executive director of FCS, said. “We haven’t experienced this sort of shortage in quite a while.”
With its own larter running low, FCS has been forced to rely heavily on assistance from Good Shepherd Food Bank of Auburn. Freezing temperatures and high oil prices have also hit many residents hard.
“Every year, more people seem to be more desperate,” said Mack, who manages FCS’ Carol Kaplan Fuel Fund, named in memory of Freeport’s longtime general assistance administrator. “There are folks who really don’t know how they’re going to get through the rest of the winter. You know, ‘half your firewood, half your hay, Groundhog’s Day.’ So we’re really just past the halfway point in the heating season.”
Fortunately, the Freeze Out has encouraged groups and individuals throughout the community to get involved.
The Freeport Rotary Club will hold a food collection called Stuff the Truck on Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Shaw’s on Lower Main Street. The Norway Savings Bank on Mallett Drive is collecting food in a grocery cart all week, and churches and high school students are organizing food drives as well, FCS staff said.
Mack hopes to someday organize a regional cold and hunger awareness weekend with pantries across the Casco Bay region and beyond. Until then, she’ll focus her efforts on the Freeze Out, which, if weather predictions hold true, won’t technically be freezing this year. But it’ll still be a cold night.
“We’re looking at a balmy 36 (degrees), from what I’m told,” Sachs said.
Sue Mack, left, and Paula O’Brien at the 2013 Freeze Out benefit on Main Street in Freeport.