Patten food cupboard expands thanks to charity partnerships

PATTEN, Maine — Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Patten Community Food Cupboard existed only as a few shelves and a refrigerator located in a small room at the Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church, supported by donations from churchgoers and community food drives. 

When the pandemic hit, the pantry lost all its means of acquiring new donations, and appeared to be on the brink of closing down. But thanks to partnerships with other charitable organizations, the Community Food Cupboard is now stronger than ever, adding a larger room lined with shelves containing a variety of canned goods and vegetable products, among others.

After reaching out to Mobilize Katahdin, a support group for organizations based in the Mt. Katahdin area, the pantry was put in touch with Catholic Charities of Maine in Monticello and Good Shepherd Food Bank in Hampden. 

“It just grew from there,” said Jean Howes, chair of the committee board which oversees the food cupboard. “We sign agreements with both of those agencies and the church signs also. And they have been a tremendous support.”

According to Howes, the cupboard now receives more than 2,000 pounds of combined products from Catholic Charities and Good Shepherd at the beginning of every month. 

The cupboard has also received several grants from the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust Grant and United Way of Eastern Maine for refrigerators and freezers used to store meat products. 

Last month, the cupboard served 54 families, comprising a total of 115 people. It’s also staffed by more than 17 volunteers, including Sharon McPhee, who helps unload food products and stack shelves. 

“It’s available to virtually everybody,” McPhee said. “People don’t think it is, but it is.”

In order to access the cupboard, people are first required to fill out a form of The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, certifying that they meet qualifications for food assistance. Those who qualify are given two banana boxes to fill with food. People are also asked to wear masks and enter one at a time to respect social distancing. 

Lowes said the pantry continues to receive donations from people as well, sometimes seeing boxes of food near the entrance when she arrives at the cupboard in the morning. 

“We’re really lucky we’re located right where we are in the center of town,” Howes said. “Because people can walk to us, they can drive to us.”

The pantry is open every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, located at the Stetson Memorial Methodist Church.

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