A Winthrop Food Pantry Supper: A Compelling Story of our Times

IMG_6637Last night, Clif and I went to a Winthrop Food Pantry supper for volunteers. Clif has taken pictures for the food pantry, and I have volunteered in various ways since 1997. Seventeen years! A long time, and I think there was only one other volunteer—Lee Gilman—who has been at the pantry longer than I have.

There was a good turnout—about thirty came to the supper. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera went, and I didn’t think to bring extra batteries. Therefore, I only got a few shots of the event. Ah, well!

After we ate sandwiches, salad, and soups, JoEllen Cottrell, the executive director, and Mike Sienko, the president, spoke about the food pantry. Naturally, they thanked everyone for their hard work, which, astonishingly has come to 2,360 hours so far this year. (The food pantry has about fifty volunteers, and there is a sign up sheet so that the hours can be tracked.)

But there were more astonishing numbers to come. When JoEllen took over as executive director in 2011, there were about forty families per month that came to the food pantry. The sessions were leisurely, and often the volunteers had time to sit and chat between taking people around.

In three years, that number has tripled, and on average, 120 families come to the food pantry each month. The volunteers no longer sit and chat, and often the pantry stays open long past its closing time of 2:30 p.m.

As far as I know, there has been no increased publicity or effort to encourage more people to come to the food pantry, and it’s my guess that more people are coming because it has become increasingly difficult to make ends meet after the Great Recession. In Maine, good paying jobs are far and few between, and many people are still looking for work. While it’s great that the food pantry is around to help people in need, it’s sad that there are so many more people that need the help.

And here’s another number: Rick Dorey and his wife Sheila get food for the pantry at the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn. Last year, they brought 70, 000 pounds of food to the Winthrop Food Pantry, and Rick told me that he expects to exceed that number this year.

The Winthrop Food Pantry provides food for Winthrop (population 6,200) and Wayne (population 1,189). Wayne is a more affluent community than Winthrop, but neither is what you would consider poor. Yet so many people qualify for receiving food from the food pantry.  (The food pantry uses the federal guidelines.)

Numbers are one way of telling a story, and the numbers at the Winthrop Food Pantry certainly tell a compelling story of our times.