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Maine food banks struggling amid inflation, high gas prices

Rural food pantries are struggling to keep up at a time when cash donations are way down.

HARRISON, Maine — High gas prices along with rising inflation are causing some food pantries in rural Maine to struggle to keep up with the surging demand for food.

Every Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m., cars line up outside the Harrison Food Bank while volunteers inside bag up frozen meat, sorting through products and other donated food items. 

Abbie Barber and her husband are among 42 volunteers who fill hundreds of boxes every week with groceries.

"It's just one of those things, more people should do it because there is the need," Barber said.

Food bank founder Sandy Swett said a large number of donations come from grocery stores, while meat and seafood wholesalers donate items that are close to expiring or overstocked.

Swett said the demand for nutritious food is surging.

The pantry is serving nearly 500 families at its weekly pickup. Volunteers also are delivering groceries to more than 100 people throughout Oxford County who don't live near a food pantry. The majority live up to an hour's drive away. 

'We are getting calls from people who have children, saying, 'I can't afford the gas, can you bring food to me?'" Swett said. 

Families who can afford to drive are bringing boxes of food back to their neighbors, including the elderly.

Ellie McKinney drives from Oxford to get food for herself and two other families. She said the donations are a big help, especially for those on a fixed income. 

"I am disabled, and my dad gets $20 a month for food stamps, so this really helps him", McKinney said.

Others say rising gas prices may put a brake on how often they can come to get food. Carolyn Payeur drives to the food bank from Dixfield, which is an hour each way.

"I told them I will continue to do this until it hits $5 a gallon," she said. "When it hits $5, we may have to go every other week."

One of the pantry's biggest expenses is diesel fuel. Their two trucks are on the road five days a week, making daily 100 mile round trips to Greater Portland to pick up donated food.

And costs are rising at a time when financial donations are way down. Twenty-five new families are signing up every week and Swett worries about keeping up with the need. The Harrison Food Bank also supplies six other smaller food pantries in Oxford County. 

Volunteers are hopeful more businesses and the public will answer the call.

Cash donations can be made on the food bank's website and Facebook page to help ensure that no one goes hungry despite an uncertain economy. 

NEWS CENTER Maine is committed to fighting hunger year round. Our 'Feed Maine' Telethon will be held on May 5 to benefit the Good Shepherd Food Bank.


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