Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Agency Spotlight – St. Mary’s Food Pantry

As one of the largest emergency food pantries in Maine, the St. Mary's Food Pantry has been providing emergency food assistance to residents of the greater Lewiston-Auburn area for over 20 years. Located on the corner of Bates and Walnut Streets, the Food Pantry is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Lewiston across the street from Kennedy Park and serves over 1,000 people per week. The emergency food distribution provided through the Food Pantry is one key part of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center’s broader work to increase food access in Lewiston-Auburn. Given the extensive poverty and health challenges in our community, providing education and increasing food access is a critical strategy for building resiliency at an individual, family, and community level.

In 2015, St. Mary’s Food Pantry distributed 193,172 pounds of food to 22,517 children and adults living in L-A.  Last year (2017) the numbers increased by 389% and 170% respectively. A total of 831,415 pounds of food was distributed to 60,817 children and adults living in L-A.

Dedicated leaders and volunteers have contributed to the ability of the food pantry to respond to such growth and sustain and endure over time. The original coordinator of the food pantry held that position for more than 15 years, originally as an employee of Good Shepherd Food Bank! The current Food Pantry Coordinator often goes above and beyond to create a supportive and welcoming space for all guests while also thinking through and putting into practice innovative strategies to support people in meeting their food needs with dignity. The larger leadership team at the Nutrition Center has acted as a backbone and has provided much needed stability during times of transition. This team currently works closely with the Coordinator to develop systems that are both resilient and responsive to the changing and sometimes challenging needs of the many diverse communities of Lewiston.  The food pantry also has a base of committed volunteers, some who have been with the pantry for nearly a decade. In order to better support and retain volunteers, the Nutrition Center is developing systems for orientation, evaluation, and celebration of the people who give their time to help others meet their food needs.

The St. Mary’s Nutrition Center is located in an old Catholic school building. While the historic and artful architecture that includes granite entryway steps and oak paneling is beautiful, it was not designed with the needs of a food pantry in mind. In particular, without modern cooling systems integrated into the building, the room where food is stored can get quite hot.  Produce that could normally keep well at room temperature would often go bad faster and anything that was perishable would have a drastically reduced lifespan. With a focus on nutritious food, the Pantry has greatly increased the amount of fresh produce distributed, and these cold storage challenges have become even more pronounced. The additional refrigerator however, has allowed us to better store more produce and perishable items, reduce the amount of waste, and help get us get more fresh fruit and vegetables to our pantry guests.

Working in partnership with GSFB has made no small difference in the types of food we are able to bring into our community.  The increase in availability of produce through GSFB coupled with the capacity building grants we have received for the purchase of new refrigerators has allowed us to address head on the growing needs of our many communities  and increase the amount of fresh healthy food families our bringing home into their household.

Lucy, a former volunteer who became a Nutrition Center fellow and Chuck a long time and invaluable volunteer with the Pantry

GSFB Network is a blog for partner agencies of Good Shepherd Food Bank focused on feeding Maine's hungry.