Town has opportunity in food pantry

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

How many families and individuals in the Lake Region don’t have enough food to eat?

“Food insecurity’ is becoming a new term, and people in Maine are concerned,” Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said, when announcing last week that the town has an opportunity to participate in a food pantry collaborative that will help food get to those who need it.

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen unanimously endorsed the town manager’s recommendation Jan. 24 to “take an open slot” on the regional food pantry transportation project known as The Cupboard Collective through June 30, 2012 and pay $1,000 for it.

“People are literally starving and literally not getting a sufficient amount of food, and here we are the richest country in the world,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz explained The Cupboard Collective Project, the innovative food transportation model in which the towns of Casco and Naples participate. Twice a month, a volunteer driver goes to the food bank in Auburn and brings food back to the food pantries in Casco and Naples, Berkowitz said.

“The biggest problem the (Cupboard Collective) partners had is getting to where the food is and getting it back here to distribute it,” Berkowitz said of why The Cupboard Collective Project came to be.

“For $1,000, we can have that truck come to Bridgton — it’s cheap money for great security,” the town manager said. Bridgton has two food pantries run by local churches.

The first year of The Cupboard Collective Project has been partially funded by the Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant program. The towns of Casco and Naples contributed 20% of the funding, according to Bria White, program coordinator for Communities Putting People to Work (CPPW)/Healthy Maine Partnerships of the People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP), with additional funds coming from PROP and the CPPW. White said The Cupboard Collective is “an unprecedented collaboration between food pantries, towns and food banks, in bringing much-needed resources to Cascso and Naples…This initiative will considerably increase the foods available to food-insecure residents of the Lake Region Community.” White made her statements, in announcing the collaborative effort last fall.

The town of Bridgton will now be part of The Cupboard Collective Project, following last week’s affirmative vote by selectmen.

Berkowitz also recommended the town plan on budgeting another $1,000 each year for the next two years, in order to ensure the town’s participation in the collaborative effort.

Referring to earlier comments by Mike Tarantino of the Bridgton Community Center about the Center’s Fuel Collaborative continuing efforts, Berkowitz said, “One of those things that concerns us is, if our folks are freezing and if our folks are going hungry, we’re not doing what we should be doing.”

“This is a minimal expense, for a great return,” Berkowitz added.

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