One of the greatest pleasures and opportunities for learning in my job comes when I visit our partners. While I see a lot of food pantries, I was missing the experience of getting to know the food pantry volunteers and clients. So, I decided to start volunteering once a month in my hometown’s food pantry.
I live in Kennebunk and while most people think of my town as the summer home of the wealthy, like many communities in coastal Maine, nestled among the million-dollar summer homes are regular Mainers who are working hard to just get by. People are surprised to learn that Kennebunk’s free and reduced lunch rate is 19%. Fortunately, we have Community Outreach Services – a program organized and supported by the area churches to initially provide hunger relief but has been expanded to include fuel assistance and other special needs support such as eye exams, utility bills, and even summer camp scholarships.
The hunger relief programs include providing 3 – 4 days of non-perishable food to families that have been referred by the area towns’ General Assistance offices, a weekly fresh food distribution, a Back Pack program, and serving as a summer meals site for the Summer Food Service Program.
I’ve been volunteering in the weekly fresh food distribution that includes food from the local Hannaford store as well as items from the community garden, when in season. This summer has seen a bounty of beautiful vegetables all grown, harvested, and packed for the food pantry by community volunteers using the community garden space in town.
COS benefits from many volunteers who from day one were very friendly and eager to have me lend a hand. Mark Jago, the Executive Director, greets everyone with a smile, pulls us together before every distribution for a quick huddle to communicate schedule changes or the like and always includes a thank you and a reminder of why we are all here. What impressed me from the first day was how well the volunteers knew the clients. I overheard many conversations asking about grandchildren, recent doctor’s visits, latest knitting projects, etc. Seeing many smiles, much laughter, and the number of seniors coming through the door every week, I imagined the friendships among clients and volunteers are as sustaining as the food.
I am grateful to be a small part of this community program who, like the hundreds of others across Maine, is helping to make a neighbor’s day a little easier.