WINTHROP FOOD MATTERS: PART ONE—THE ISSUES

Last Sunday, after a chilly October bike ride along Lake Maranacook and its russet-colored shores—somehow we have skipped the blazing colors this year—I rode to Margy and Steve Knight’s house for a Winthrop Food Matters meeting. Various members of the community came to the meeting, and they all were concerned about community, good food, and resilience.

Patrice Putman, who works as director of employee development at MaineGeneral Health, moderated the meeting, and the first issue raised was food insecurity in our community. I have volunteered at the Winthrop Food Pantry for 13 years, and JoEllen Cottrell, the Food Pantry’s new executive director, was at the meeting as well. In addition, Craig Hickman, of Annabessacook Farm Bed & Breakfast, was there. His farm sponsors a private food pantry and is also the temporary home of Winthrop’s Hot Meals Kitchen, which serves free meals on Wednesday to anyone who wants dinner. (Until recently, the Hot Meals Kitchen had been in St. Francis Xavier Hall, which belongs to and is adjacent to the town’s Catholic church. Why the Hot Meals Kitchen is no longer there is a long story worthy of its own post.)

JoEllen, Craig, and I had all come to the same conclusion—due to the horrible economy, more and more people are struggling and therefore need our services. At the same time, inexpensive food from places such as the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn is becoming harder and harder to get. This, in turn, puts a huge strain on the budgets of food pantries and hot meals kitchens as they must buy more of their food at full price from conventional grocery stores. (The lack of food from The Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has been Winthrop Food Pantry’s mainstay for as long as I’ve volunteered there, would be another subject worthy of an entire post on this blog. ) Craig Hickman put it succinctly: “The excess in the system is drying up.”

From there the discussion turned to having a licensed commercial kitchen in Winthrop, where donated fruit and vegetables could be processed and then given to the Hot Meals Kitchen and to the Winthrop Food Pantry. (Because of federal guidelines, the Food Pantry is unable to accept food canned or preserved by home cooks. Such food must come from a licensed commercial kitchen.)

Various homes for the Hot Meals Kitchen were discussed, from the Winthrop Middle School to an abandoned factory in town to a new building on a piece of land. Craig spoke of how the board of the Hot Meals Kitchen voted to investigate having its own place. “That way, we can control our destiny. We won’t be beholden to anybody,” Craig said. Craig’s feeling was that if everything went according to plan, the Hot Meals Kitchen would soon be back in St. Francis Xavier Hall, giving the board time and space to pursue its goal of building a community center focused on food. (I must admit, I love this idea.)

By the time the meeting concluded, there were plans of action. Margy offered to do research about food processing for food pantries in other communities; JoEllen, of course, will be devoting her time and energy into keeping the shelves stocked at the Winthrop Food Pantry; Steve volunteered to check into the Middle School about the possibility of of having a commercial kitchen there; and Craig and I discussed writing a regular food column for our local paper—the Community Advertiser—so that we could bring various food issues to people’s attention as well as provide seasonal recipes.

Even though the Winthrop Food Matters meeting ended on an upbeat note and the mood throughout was positive, one thing is certain. When it comes to food matters, there are many angles to consider—politics, resources (both food and money), time, and energy. Yet what can be more important than the food we eat and how communities are fed? Our health and well being are inextricably twined with food.

But there are lots of reasons to be hopeful. In Winthrop, the interest in local food has never been greater. Thanks to the many farmers in the area, Winthrop grows some of its own food, and the community makes an earnest effort to provide food for those in need.

Now, onward!

(Tomorrow’s post will be Winthrop Food Matters: Part II—Food and Fellowship)

4 thoughts on “WINTHROP FOOD MATTERS: PART ONE—THE ISSUES”

  1. I’m really impressed with the ambitious level of work you’re describing – most people seem to think that food pantry operations are just about collecting and passing out prepackaged foods, an attitude that seems to be changing as people realize the resources available beyond the box and the can. But a pantry has to have the right infrastructure to take advantage of things like fresh produce donations, and that’s a tall order for many small pantries to pull off. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Debbie! As I’m sure you well know, it is a big effort, especially in the middle of a recession when “the excess in the system is drying up.” But we will keep on working to feed people in Winthrop and Wayne.

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