Passion for food, people: Riemensnider retiring from South Portland Food Cupboard

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The longtime executive director and co-founder of the South Portland Food Cupboard will retire this month.

Sybil Riemensnider, the unpaid full-time executive director of the 130 Thadeus St. pantry, has served for 20 years.

Riemensnider said the work was “a labor of love and it has been highly rewarding.”

The food cupboard is open every Thursday morning from 8:30-11:30. It shares more than a week’s worth of food with families and individuals once per month, and delivers food to 22 elderly or incapacitated residents who cannot make it to the cupboard. Riemensnider said between 250 and 300 families, or about 700 people, are served each month, and no one is turned away.

The cupboard also provides food for the Locker Food program in city schools, the Neighborhood Resource Hub, and food and utensils for those in temporary motel shelters, as well as providing snack packs during school breaks to families with children under 12 in South Portland and Portland.

Riemensnider was recently honored by the state Legislature and City Council, which unanimously passed a resolve honoring Riemensnider on May 15.

In an interview this week, Riemensnider remained modest about her contributions and kept steering the conversation away from her accomplishments and back to the Food Cupboard.

“It’s what I love to talk about most,” she said.

The cupboard was founded by Riemensnider, Gloria Ahern and Edward Cooke and will be 20 years old at the end of the month. Ahern and Cooke still volunteer at the pantry.

The three saw a need and started collecting food at Holy Cross Church, which is now St. John & Holy Cross, at 124 Cottage Road. As the food cupboard grew they moved to St. John the Evangelist Church, which closed in 2013. They moved to the warehouse on Thadeus Street almost four years ago.

The food cupboard has refrigeration units and a walk-in freezer. Cans are organized neatly and food is placed into decorative baskets for recipients.

Riemensnider said she has always wanted things to look “pretty” for the recipients, and has tried to maintain standards of what “would make me feel good if I came into a pantry.”

“I have a passion about food,” she said.

The organization is staffed by about 60 volunteers and one paid, part-time warehouse manager. Riemensnider, who chose not to be paid for her work, will be replaced by a part-time paid director, who will be required to have grant-writing experience to bring in more funds.

Jim Welch, the part-time warehouse manager, said Riemensnider “is the best hugger I know. She is a toughie, but has a big heart and her heart goes out to everyone.”

Welch called the food cupboard a “wonderful place to work. It is a social hub and it is fun to come here every day.”

Riemensnider, a retired microbiologist who worked for the Shriners Hospital For Children in Boston and for another company that made products that were used in vaccines, had a history of volunteerism before helping to found the food cupboard.

She volunteered for an Alzheimer’s association and for the Portland Museum of Art. She said she wants to continue to volunteer at the food pantry, as well as for the schools or library.

Riemensnider, who resided in South Portland for more than 30 years and now lives in a condominium in Scarborough, calls herself a homebody. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, especially nonfiction books, and has organized a book exchange at the food cupboard.

She is also a member of the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth.

Sandy Fordyce, of South Portland, who volunteers at the pantry once a week with her husband, Curt, said Riemensnider is dedicated, kind, and well organized.

“She is constantly looking for better ways to serve the public,” Fordyce said. “I haven’t known her for very long, but I’m impressed.”

Appropriately, a sign hanging in the 4,000-square-foot warehouse sums up the cupboard philosophy, as expressed by Riemensnider:

“Respect the food; respect the recipients; respect each other — Sybil 1997.”

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Sybil Riemensnider, the unpaid full-time executive director of the South Portland Food Cupboard, at the 130 Thadeus St. pantry. Riemensnider will retire at the end of June, 20 years after she helped found the organization.