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Community support bolsters Cumberland food pantry

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Community support bolsters Cumberland food pantry

CUMBERLAND — With Thanksgiving around the corner, and Christmas fast on its heels, the Cumberland Food Bank is finding no shortage of community support or crucial items for local people in need.

The pantry, which opened at Town Hall in November 2012, was serving about 25 families in Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Pownal and New Gloucester at the end of last year. Now it provides items like food, personal-care products and school supplies to about 165 families, nearly three-quarters of whom live in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, Town Manager Bill Shane said Monday.

"For this week we'll be supplying 60 turkey baskets ... for the Thanksgiving holiday," which will be distributed this Friday and Saturday, Shane said.

The Food Bank will also soon submit paperwork to become a nonprofit corporation. Shane is its vice president, while Town Councilor Tom Gruber is its president. Finance Director Heather Perreault is treasurer, while Jean Lamson – who coordinated the prior food pantry at the Cumberland Congregational Church – is the secretary.

The pantry raised more than $44,000 last year in cash contributions, and spent about $16,000 in the first year, Shane said. Shane noted that cash is the best way for people to contribute, since the pantry has been able to stretch its dollars at the Good Shepard Food Bank in Auburn.

"There are weeks where we'll go in, and buy a thousand pounds of food, and spend $50 ... I don't know how we would do it without (Good Shepard)," he said.

The Cumberland Food Bank also buys much of its food from Hannaford Bros. Co. and the Wayside food rescue program in Portland.

Many people also bring donations into Town Hall. Shopping carts near the entrance were filled Monday morning.

"The greatest need we have are a lot of personal-care products," like toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent and paper towels, Shane said. "Things that people can't purchase with food stamps."

The biggest time of giving is around November and December.

"We're very fortunate to have as many generous people," Shane said. "Both Cumberland and North Yarmouth have done a great job with donations to the pantry.

Donations dwindle a bit after the holidays. The bank buys most of its products from July through September, Shane said.

The bank looks like a miniature grocery store, with tall stocked shelves, refrigerators and four freezers. The pantry is at the back of Town Hall, on the ground floor, in what had previously served as two garage bays.

The facility has between 30 and 40 active volunteers. It is open for shopping Fridays from 2-6 p.m. Town Hall is closed those days, so there is much less activity around the building, which provides customers a greater measure of privacy.

People can call Town Hall at 829-2205, or Shane at 232-5258, if they need to access the pantry on other days of the week.

"It's pretty exciting ... to see the families that we've impacted," Shane said. "Some are here just one time; some are here for a few months, trying to get over a tough spot, some are here because of their seasonal employment; others are here because they have not been able to find work."

Seniors on fixed incomes also benefit.

The local Girl Scouts ran a food program for youths, providing them on weekends and during the summer with snacks similar to what they get at school. The Cub Scouts held a food drive recently that drew in 600 pounds of food, which the Girl Scouts sorted and labeled.

While the Food Bank has turned into something of a part-time job for many of those involved, who receive no compensation, Shane said, "it is the most rewarding piece of work I think I've ever done."

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.