Food pantry struggles to feed those in need

15 years ago

By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    OAKFIELD —Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry is hoping for a Christmas miracle to help feed the needy this holiday season.
    It has been a difficult past few months raising money and collecting food items for the pantry as the group has been dealing with rumors that it had closed its doors.
    “Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry is definitely not closed,” said Debbie Gray, one of the co-founders of the pantry. “We, like all food pantries, rely heavily on donations of food stuffs and money. We are feeding a large area of people from Littleton to Staceyville and there are many more families with children going hungry this year.”
    Last month, the pantry’s vehicle — a 2000 Chevrolet Blazer purchased with a $10,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation in November — was destroyed in a crash shortly after it was purchased. The insurance claim has not been settled in the case, leaving the group both unable to purchase another vehicle, and unable to travel downstate to pick up donations or deliver food items to those in need.
    Compounding the problem, the group had to move out of the basement of the Oakfield Unitarian-Universalist Church and is now trying to provide for people in the home of one of its co-founders Candy and Steve Campbell.
    “Sometimes the things in life that are the most worthwhile are meant to be the hardest for you to do,” Gray said. “We’ll just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going.”
    Food donations, particularly meat items, have been sparse this season, leaving Gray to wonder how many families will go hungry this Christmas.
    “We haven’t received very many donations this year, partly because of the rumor we had closed,” she said. “We need help. We are only allowed by law to put out a donation bucket and 90 percent of the people we feed can’t donate. We are also trying to come up with a few small gifts for children this year.”
    Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry got its humble start in September, 2004 when the Campbells joined forces with Gray to help fill a void in the Oakfield area.
    “We started the food pantry because of two separate episodes,” Gray said. “The first being I received a call from an older woman who asked me if I knew anyone who could help her sister and husband with food. They were sitting down to a meal of gravy train dog food and warm milk because they were out of food. I took whatever extra food I had to them. The next day, I received another call, from someone in Elderly Housing in Oakfield, telling me about another couple who was going to eat a meat loaf made out of cat tuna. I was at the Campbell’s home, Candy put some food together, and I delivered it. Then we decided to open a food pantry.”
    The Campbells and Gray started the food pantry with money out of their own pockets.
    “We stopped at Caswell ‘s Salvage in Waterville and had pooled our money,” Gray said. “We had around $150, so we bought as much as we could for our money, Mr. Caswell gave us a discount so we got more for our money.”
    From there, Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry was officially up and running. The pantry applied to Randy Mraz for TEFAP Food, received a membership at Good Shepherd Food Bank, and had a lot of help from the late Joyce Copeland from AGAPE Food Pantry.
    “She put us in touch with Janis Astle at B&M Baked Beans in Portland,” Gray said. “We also found online a bakery in Wells, and they met us once every two weeks in Augusta, where we picked up all the bread we could carry.”
    “As Christmas rolled around we got connected with Jordan’s Meats,” Gray continued. “They called saying they were interested in making a donation of over 200 pounds, if we could pick it up in South Portland. The next day we went, picked up the meat, then drove right back.”
    The pantry relocated into the basement of the Oakfield Unitarian-Universalist Church in Oakfield for a time, but moved back to the Campbell’s residence last fall.
    The group was approved as a 501(c)3 non-profit from the IRS and the group was well on its way.
There have been ups and downs along the way. The donation of meat by Jordan’s was stolen, but the business provided a replacement donation.
    Donations can be sent to Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry, 299 Thompson Settlement Road, Oakfield, ME 04763. For more information, or to volunteer to help, contact the pantry at 521-4239 or 757-7128.