Agency on Aging, Catholic Charities partner to distribute food to seniors in need

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many additional food distribution events throughout Aroostook County, one program that began years before is still going strong thanks to a partnership between Aroostook Agency on Aging and Catholic Charities.

The Agency’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program began in 2012 to help budget conscious senior citizens who are on fixed Social Security incomes. Every month volunteers from the agency and Catholic Charities partner to distribute food in locations across Aroostook County.

While the agency assists people with signing up for the program, Catholic Charities delivers and helps distribute food boxes from their Caribou and Monticello warehouses. The boxes contain shelf-stable milk, canned meats, pasta, juice and cereal as well as refrigerated cheese.

On Thursday, March 4, volunteers saw more than 200 people come through the food line set up at the Riverside Pavilion on Riverside Drive. 

Dixie Shaw, hunger and relief services director for Catholic Charities, chats during the Aroostook Agency on Aging’s commodity food box distribution on Riverside Drive. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star-Herald)

Dixie Shaw, director of hunger and relief services at Catholic Charities, said that although the line was not as large as the free food distributions that Catholic Charities has added due to the pandemic, the high turnout for the commodity boxes still reflects senior citizens’ need for extra food.

“Even when the minimum wage goes up, seniors’ incomes don’t go up. They’re on Social Security and fixed incomes,” Shaw said. “They have to worry about how to pay for heat, medications and food.”

Every month Catholic Charities assists with Commodity Supplemental Food distributions in Houlton, Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Mars Hill, Caribou, Van Buren and Fort Kent, and partners with pantries in smaller communities to ensure that all seniors signed up for the program have access to the boxes.

After distributions in larger communities like Presque Isle, volunteers will leave 40 additional boxes at the local community center for anyone who was unable to drive through the line. 

“We always have extra boxes on hand to make sure people get food,” Shaw said.

To qualify for the Community Supplemental Food Program, recipients must be over the age of 60, have a physical address in Aroostook County and meet the program’s income guidelines. A household of one person must earn an annual income of $16,588 or less and a household of two must have an annual income of $22,412 or less to qualify. Income qualifications change with each additional household member.

Alicia Schenk, dining and CSFP coordinator, said that the agency and Catholic Charities typically receive around 1,750 food boxes from the USDA each month, which nearly equals the number of people signed up for the program across Aroostook. In Presque Isle at least 276 households receive monthly boxes.

Due to the pandemic the agency is encouraging people to sign up by phone rather than stop by in person. Schenk can be reached at 207-760-1690, after which she will send a completed application to the residents’ homes for them to sign.