Grant expands rural food pantry program

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — While working for Preble Street Resource Center 10 years ago, Brie White spent almost one-fourth of her time driving a 16-passenger van and collecting food for the facility’s kitchen.

Frequently, it crossed her mind that transportation was the biggest challenge to efficiently supplying nonprofit kitchens and food pantries.

More than a year ago, as an employee of PROP working with the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, “It really struck me that 10 years later there was the same obstacle: transportation,” she said.

So, White designed a program to transport food from warehouses to rural communities using trucks already on the road. Then, White approached many town managers in rural communities with her idea.

“I got a lot of, ‘Go and prove yourself and come back in a year,’ ” she said.

Finally, she coordinated her food-transportation plan with Naples Town Manager Derik Goodine. With an annual contribution of $1,500, the pilot program took off in Naples and Casco. Later, the Town of Bridgton joined.

According to White, “In the first year, we saw an increase in food moved to Naples of 30 percent.”

There have been 5,000 visits to the three food pantries; and those visits are not just individuals but also families, she said. In addition to the ability to get fresh food to outlying communities, the Collective Cupboard Program frees up food pantry volunteers who would otherwise spend time on the road.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to spend $300 to continue the service until the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The money will come from the Undesignated Fund.

During her presentation to the board, White said the pilot program, which began in Naples and Casco, has been so successful that it has grabbed the interest of Wisconsin food pantries.

“We are being acknowledged nationally as a model that makes sense,” she said. “We moved 112 tons of food in the first year to Casco and Naples. It wouldn’t have happened if the trucks were not there to deliver it.”

She added, “The first year, the trucks covered 4,000 miles, and saved 400 volunteer hours.”

Volunteers at Crossroads Outreach are not just handing out food. Those volunteers also provide health screenings, offer classes on economical shopping and healthy cooking, and help people to locate the resources they need, according to White.

A major plus for pastoral communities is that people who use the food pantry end up with fresh food, not only the canned and non-perishable items, she said.

At the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, which is located in Auburn, the food is available on a first come/first serve basis. So, in the past, if a pallet of broccoli arrived, Naples would not get it. Often, Portland food pantries would be the recipients.

Since the dollar is often the bottom line: the best news is that the Collective Cupboard covered its operating costs during the first year.

The Collective Cupboard was initially funded by an $8,000 grant from Cumberland County.

Recently, the food transportation program was awarded a $60,000 grant to expand from three towns to four counties, White said.

“I am proud to tell people it started here in the towns of Naples and Casco,” she said.

Crossroads Outreach distributes food and free lunches every other Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Naples Town Office. The next food pantry date is Feb. 4. Casco Alliance Church, located at 450 Roosevelt Trail, holds its community food pantry from 6 to 7 p.m. on the third Monday of the month.



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