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Shelf remains bare in search for South Portland food pantry

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Shelf remains bare in search for South Portland food pantry

SOUTH PORTLAND — In January, South Portland Food Cupboard Executive Director Sybil Riemensnider was facing increased demand from clients and the need to find a new home.

Almost half a year later, the situation is increasingly dire after the cupboard served more people than ever last month, and host site St. John the Evangelist Church at 611 Main St. faces impending closure.

On Wednesday, Monsignor Michael Henchal confirmed the church will close, likely by Sept. 1. He said a committee of parishioners is working on details and the closing date has not been precisely determined.

“We need a lot of space, basically what we need is a warehouse,” Riemensnider said last week. She said she needs at least 4,000 square feet to house the pantry, now located in the church basement.

Each Thursday morning, clients arrive for bags and boxes of baked items, produce, canned vegetables, pasta, meats and dairy goods. The Food Cupboard has been in the church basement for more than 12 years and was established in 1997 to primarily serve families in the city, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough.

The requirements for a new space are demanding. In addition to being large enough, a new space would need to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and must have storage areas, room for freezers and refrigerators, bathrooms and ample parking. Proximity to public transportation would help too.

But cost has complicated the search, since the pantry is not charged rent or for utilities at the church. Moving will carry additional costs, and Riemensnider said at least one paid staffer will likely be needed in the future.

Riemensnider and a committee have been searching for a new site. She wants to stay in South Portland because about 65 percent of the pantry clients live in the city.

She estimated the pantry now spends about $1,500 a week on food, but it also receives substantial private and business support, including donations from Scratch Bakery, Hannaford Bros. and Legion Square Market.

“We need to expand. We can get the donations, but we have no place to put them,” she said.

Families earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive a week's worth of groceries once a month. Food Cupboard records are kept confidential, but new clients are screened. In May, Riemensnider said 49 new families applied for help. Of the 826 people served last month, 171 were children under 12.

Riemensnider's search for a new pantry home has led her to writing every commercial real estate broker she can find, and to Common Good Ventures in Portland to get ideas on how to best operate before, during and after relocating.

“I need a new look at things,” she said.

Common Good Ventures merges business expertise from the private sector with the missions of nonprofits. In March, Riemensnider made a 10-minute presentation about pantry operations, and the public is invited to review and remark on how the pantry can adapt in a Common Good Ventures "springboard."

This summer, Riemensnider will seek more community support by having benefit cookouts following Saturday services at churches in the local parish cluster, including St. John the Evangelist, Church of the Holy Cross on Cottage Road, and St. Maximilian Kolbe on Black Point Road in Scarborough.

The first cookout is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. June 22 at Holy Cross. The cookout at St. John the Evangelist will be held from 5-7 p.m. July 20, and the cookout at St. Maximilian Kolbe will be held from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 24.

Riemensnider said admission to all cookouts will be $8 for adults, $5 for children, and $20 for families, with barbecued chicken, pork and spare ribs served.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Story corrected June 7 to show the June 22 cookout will be at Church of the Holy Cross.