Yarmouth pantry fills a need this and every season

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YARMOUTH — In Yarmouth, where the average household income in 2014 was over $114,000, it may seem like there is no need for a food pantry.

Sue Rowe, the manager of the Yarmouth Community Food Pantry, has found quite the opposite to be true, however.

“Because it’s an affluent town, you don’t think of there being a need, but there are lots of young families and older residents who need help,” she said.

The food pantry, located in the basement of the First Parish Congregational Church at 116 Main St., serves Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Freeport and Pownal. Rowe said 75-80 families come to the pantry each month, and 90 percent are from Yarmouth.

According to an Esri community profile on the town website, there were 2,305 families living in Yarmouth in 2014 and a total population of 8,308.

Of that population, 4.3 percent had a household income of less than $15,000 and 15.4 percent had a household income of over $200,000. The median income was over $75,000.

Rowe said the people who come to the pantry are people who really need help.

“For people who come to the food pantry, it’s a very humbling experience, and they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t need to be,” she said.

The pantry is open three times a week: Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday from 5-7 p.m. Rowe said each family is allowed to come once a week and take only what they need. She said the pantry is well-stocked because of the holiday season, but from February to September, there will be much fewer items from which to choose.

The pantry is stocked mostly through donations from businesses and individuals, with some food from Wayside Food Programs in Portland. The Yarmouth Community Garden on East Main Street also donates fresh produce to the pantry, and Hannaford makes donations as well. The pantry uses funds from monetary donations to buy other essentials such as eggs and milk, as well as personal care items.

Rowe said the Yarmouth Police Department is the biggest donor, and has given $3,000 for each of the last three years. The money comes from the Maine Marathon, which pays the police department for helping divert traffic around the marathon route.

Also, Rowe said an individual donor has given $1,500 each year for the past two years.

The pantry is run by about 50 volunteers, including Rowe, who said she puts in about 20 hours a week. The volunteers run the pantry when people shop there, and do other tasks such as picking up donations, unloading and stocking food and other supplies, and shopping for other items that are needed.

The volunteers also help run events, such as Project Holiday, which will take place at the pantry Dec. 22. The event provides families with a box of holiday food, including a turkey, and gives toys and presents to children. Operation Bundle-Up, which collects donations of winter gear and clothing and donates them to people in need, will also be part of the event.

Project Holiday is coordinated by Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors (YCAN) and other organizations in town. Last year, food was given to 292 families and gifts to 109 children.

Rowe said meeting people who use the pantry reinforces the fact that its services are needed in town.

“You get to know people and you hear their stories and realize that yes, we definitely need to be here,” she said.

The pantry has been located in the church for 35 years; nine years ago, several local pantries consolidated and joined. Rowe said it’s not a church pantry, it’s a community pantry, and it may relocate someday. 

Rowe said she wants more people, including people who can donate and people who need to use the pantry, to know it exists. She said the Yarmouth Town Council will be visiting in January because some councilors were unaware the pantry was there.

“We need to get the word out that there’s a pantry in Yarmouth and there’s a need for a pantry in Yarmouth,” Rowe said. “There’s definitely a need.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sue Rowe, manager of the Yarmouth Food Pantry, said she wants people in need to be aware of the pantry and what is has to offer.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.