On Wednesday, the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Food Mobile came to Winthrop and set up a temporary food pantry at the parish hall of St. Francis Catholic Church. According to Good Shepherd’s website, the food mobiles allow them “to deliver fresh, frozen, and dry grocery goods at great distances at safe temperatures,” and they also allow Good Shepherd, which is in Auburn, to set up temporary food pantries anywhere in the state.
Local organizations helping the Good Shepherd bring the food mobile to Winthrop were the Winthrop Food Pantry, Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen, and the United Way of Kennebec Valley. Last but certainly not least, Nancy and Charlie Shuman, of Charlie’s Family of Dealerships, generously sponsored this event, donating the money needed to bring the food mobile to Winthrop.
Earlier in the week, JoEllen Cottrell, the executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry, had called to ask me if I could come to the parish hall to help unload the truck, set up food inside the parish hall, and pass out food. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
There were many other volunteers, and with a couple of dollies and a lot of people power, we unloaded boxes and boxes of onions, grapes, baked goods, tuna fish, beef stew, baked beans, rice, meat, eggs, pasta, and macaroni and cheese. Did I forget something? Perhaps, but that is the gist of what was there.
Students from Maranacook Middle School, along with some of the staff, also donated their time, and how glad we were to have them on hand to carry boxes and bags for the elderly and the disabled. Simply put, those students were little gems, and I do hope they help again should the food mobile come back to Winthrop.
Anybody in the area who needed food—there were no income restrictions at all—was welcome to come, and come they did, lining up two hours before the doors even opened. And what did these people look like? Readers, they looked like you and me. They were tall, short, thin, fat, young, old, male, female. Don’t think they were somehow “those other people,” because they weren’t. In central Maine, they live among us, and depending on the turn of events, they could indeed be us, going through the line with boxes and bags, taking free food.
I passed out cans of beef stew, and I am not ashamed to admit that I really love, and I mean love, passing out food to people. I suppose I get this from my mother, who liked nothing better than feeding family and friends. The more cans of beef stew I gave, the happier I felt, and my face must have reflected this joy because people smiled right back at me. When I mentioned this to JoEllen, she said, “I think most of the volunteers at the pantry feel exactly the same way that you do.”
I also want to note, with pride, that in central Maine, people cook. There were so many boxes and bags of onions that I was sure we’d have some left over, but we didn’t. Every single bag went out the door with a home cook. “It’s the same with fresh potatoes and squash,” JoEllen said. “When we offer them at the food pantry, people snap them right up.”
On a less upbeat note…After the food was gone and the recipients had left, my friend Margy Knight and I chatted for a bit.
“Why are there so many people who need food?” she asked, shaking her head. “That is the question we should be asking.”
Why? Because too many jobs don’t pay enough, and the same is true for pensions going to senior citizens and the disabled. Then, of course, there are the people who are out of work or who have high medical expenses. Margy nodded, telling me that she was so moved by the whole event, by seeing how many people came for food. I then went on to tell her that it was my understanding that most wealthy countries did not use food pantries and food mobiles to feed their people. Instead, higher wages and generous social services keep the people well fed.
As I left, I wondered, what happens to struggling people in communities that don’t have people as generous as the Shumans? Or as hardworking and organized as JoEllen or the food pantry’s president, Mike Sienko? What then?
Well, let’s end on an upbeat note. On Wednesday, 170 families, feeding 470 individuals, took home onions, meat, grapes, and bread and enough other food to supplement their diet for the next week or so. They came from 15 towns, and it makes me feel good to think of all that food in their cupboards, freezers, and refrigerators.