OAKFIELD, Maine — It is hard to grasp that some people in Aroostook County do not have access to potatoes, especially when living in a region surrounded by potato fields.
But the economic downturn has forced a greater number of residents to turn to food pantries, where fresh fruits and vegetables do not always fill the shelves.
Now a southern Aroostook agency is hoping that a new alliance will change that.
Officials with Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry announced Friday that the pantry has joined the AmpleHarvest.org campaign. The campaign is a nationwide effort to enable neighborhood food pantries to be stocked by gardeners who want to share their excess crops with those in need.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for us and we are pleased to be able to have this partnership,” Debbie Gray, executive director of the shelter, said Friday afternoon. “Local food pantries usually receive their supplies from regional food banks, government programs and neighborhood donations. They generally do not include fresh produce because of distribution and storage issues.”
Gray said that the pantry has refrigeration to store fresh produce, but they have not had the opportunity to receive those products until now.
A nonprofit organization, AmpleHarvest.org enables food pantries to register their name, phone number and address on its Web site to make it easier for growers to locate the facility and find out the days and times that each pantry will accept the grower’s produce.
The Oakfield food pantry appears to be the only such agency in The County listed on the Web site.
Gray said that legions of gardeners have far more produce than they can possibly use or share with friends. The leftovers are either thrown away or left to rot in the garden.
“We have a steady flow of people who use our services, and many of them are repeat customers,” she said. “There are a lot of the working poor out there now. They are so grateful for the food, but people get tired of eating canned goods all of the time. People have garden leftovers and they sometimes have fruit to spare. This is going to help people who need food and it will help gardeners who want to get rid of some food.”
The pantry, which opened in 2003 and is located on Thompson Settlement Road, has clients from Monticello, Littleton, Houlton and towns south to East Millinocket.
The pantry was listed on the Web site Friday, and Gray is hoping to forge relationships with local growers in the coming weeks. Since the pantry does not have a vehicle, Gray hopes that most of the produce can be dropped off. If it can’t, however, Gray said that she will find a way to pick up the donation.
Gray was pleased that the Web site would help the pantry reach more people.
“I think that a lot of people believe that others do not go hungry,” Gray said Friday. “But that is not true. Many people who are hungry just don’t say anything about it. It is that Aroostook County pride.”
For more information, contact Gray at 521-4239 or visit www.AmpleHarvest.org.