FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Each year, the Maine Potato Blossom Festival is held in Fort Fairfield to celebrate The County’s most prominent cash crop.
Food is a prominent presence during the festival, as revelers partake of barbecues, buy food from vendors and even wrestle in mashed potatoes.
But despite that abundance of food, not everyone who attends the fete has daily access to enough. Once again, however, a local Teamsters union is working to change that.
South Portland-based Teamsters Local 340, through its Women’s Committee, is spearheading a massive statewide food drive to benefit Catholic Charities Maine in Caribou. The second annual event will help assure that no one in Aroostook County goes to bed with a rumbling stomach.
The 63rd annual Potato Blossom Festival began July 9 and wraps up on July 18. Countless events are on tap this year, including the Potato Blossom pageants; potato picking contest; mashed potato wrestling; road, bike, canoe and kayak races; and live musical performances.
The annual parade, scheduled for July 17, is a fan favorite. That is where the Teamsters will be wrapping up their rolling food drive.
Traci Place, a business agent for the union, said during a recent interview that the food drive would begin in Kittery on July 16. A tractor-trailer will arrive at the Kittery Town Hall at about 7 a.m. so that members of Teamsters Local 340 can fill it with nonperishable food donations. Once donors in Kittery submit their offerings, the tractor-trailer will head north, stopping at designated locations to pick up additional donations as it travels the length of the state.
“We had such success with this that we knew immediately after we wrapped up last year’s event that we wanted to do it again in 2010,” Place said. “Everyone was so generous to us and we knew that we had made a big impact in helping Catholic Charities of Maine fill its warehouse with food.”
Through its Caribou-based food bank, Catholic Charities Maine stocks 24 food pantries throughout Aroostook County. The organization helped 32,686 people in 2007, 33,244 in 2008 and 40,262 in 2009, according to statistics from the Teamsters.
Teamsters Local 340 has close to 4,000 members.
Once the truck leaves Kittery, it will stop in Biddeford, South Portland, Auburn, Augusta, Fairfield, Newport, Hermon, Medway, Houlton and Presque Isle. The final stop will be in Fort Fairfield, where the truck will participate in the Maine Potato Blossom parade. Canned goods and donations also will be collected along the parade route.
All donations will be delivered to the Caribou food bank after the parade.
Last year Teamsters collected 25,000 pounds of food and $850 in monetary donations.
“We were overwhelmed with the response we got during the parade last year,” said Place. “It seemed like nearly everyone who attended had a can or two or a few dollars to offer to us. We know that times were hard last year, so it was just outstanding to see people giving all that they could last year. We know that the economic situation hasn’t improved that much since last year, but we are still hoping to collect more food and donations this year.”
Place said people sometimes forget that the need for food is just as great in summer as it is in the winter.
“We have heard from various food pantries that donations tend to dwindle in the summer,” she said. “We want to make sure that the Caribou food bank has the supplies on hand to help everyone who is in need in The County.”
For information about the food drive, visit www.teamsterslocal340.org.
For information about the Maine Potato Blossom Festival, visit www.potatoblossom.org.