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L.L. Bean boxing food, not flannel, to help during coronavirus pandemic

The outdoors retailer has partnered with Good Shepherd Food Bank to accelerate food access for struggling Mainers during the COVID-19 health crisis.

FREEPORT, Maine — Freeport-based retailer and one of Maine's largest companies L.L. Bean is using its distribution center to pack food for pantries across the state during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The outdoors retailer is partnering with Maine's largest food bank, Good Shepherd, with L.L. Bean workers sorting and packaging food in boxes and Good Shepherd distributing to pantries in all 16 counties. 

"COVID-19 is unlike any emergency situation we’ve seen before,” Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank, said in a statement. “The Food Bank is channeling all of its efforts to be a resource for the state of Maine, including expanding hours of operations and reallocating internal resources for planning, preparation, and response.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit Maine, the Food Bank had to change its food distribution model. On a normal day, they explained, partner food pantries order food from Good Shepherd and then community members come in a pick out the food needed. 

The charitable food network in Maine relies largely on volunteers who are 65 or older. 

"The health risks presented by COVID-19 means that model no longer works," Miale said, "there is too much contact and exposure for community members and food pantry volunteers."

"We are so grateful that L.L. Bean has volunteered to help us during this time," Miale said.

Last Monday, L.L. Bean closed all of its U.S. retail locations through March 29 out of precaution for the spread of COVID-19, which included the Flagship store in Freeport. The closure marked only the fifth time in the company's history that the Flagship store closed its doors.

RELATED: UPDATE: L.L. Bean closing all U.S. stores, Brunswick manufacturing location due to coronavirus concerns

Auburn-based Good Shepherd says prepackaged food boxes reduce the need for food pantry volunteers and makes it more efficient to distribute at a time when some pantries are offering drive-by service. Food pantries across the state have moved to this method.

The first trial run got underway Tuesday, and Good Shepherd said the goal is to pack 10,000 boxes per week. 

“As a direct-to-consumer company, our fulfillment team is highly skilled at picking, packing and distributing shipments of all kinds," Steve Smith, president and CEO of L.L.Bean, said. "We want to use our resources to the best of our ability to serve our community during this unprecedented time.”

In addition to facilities and mechanisms already in place at the L.L. Bean distribution center, the L.L. Bean staff is banding together, ready and able to help the Food Bank. 

“The Food Bank has a staff of roughly 80 employees, but not all employees can continue in their full capacity due to childcare, health conditions, and other factors,” Miale said. “In addition, we’ve had to sideline thousands of our regular volunteers due to CDC recommendations. This partnership with L.L.Bean comes at a critical time and truly shows how committed they are to supporting their home state and its people. Having the ability to utilize an existing workforce to pack shelf-stable food boxes lifts a tremendous weight off the Food Bank.”

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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