BREWER, Maine — Brewer Christian Food Cupboard, which has operated out of a closet in the basement of a local church for nearly three decades, has moved into a new, larger home on Center Street.
“Almost 30 years ago, Anne Piper and others started a food cupboard in the basement of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church,” Paul Jerome, president of the food cupboard’s board of directors, said Wednesday while standing inside the new location. “Until August, we were in a 8-by-10-foot closet.”
More space became necessary because of the number of people lining up at the door, he said.
“Year to date, 959 households have been served,” Jerome said. “That equals 2,429 individuals.”
For August alone, the food pantry served 122 households and helped to feed 321 people, he said.
That is the highest number the food cupboard has served in one month since it began keeping records, Jerome said.
“We have 280 active households and 730 active recipients,” he said, explaining that someone is considered “active” who has used the free pantry at least once in the last six months.
“The move has helped us because we have more room and everything is in one spot,” Jerome said, adding before August the food was dispersed from St. Patrick’s basement but the pantry’s food storage area was in another church.
When people walk into the pantry, they are given a list of items and may choose what they want in their boxes.
“The number of items are based on the number of people in the household,” Jerome said.
For example, a family of four would be able to choose six cans of vegetables from a selection of carrots, corn, creamed corn, green beans and peas. The six cans could consist of a variety of the offerings or a single kind of vegetable if that’s what they want.
The pantry has a goal of serving healthful foods under U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, so each box has fruits and vegetables, cereal, soups, pasta, beans, rice or potatoes and meats.
“We’re not giving out snacks,” Jerome said.
If sugary snacks are donated to the food cupboard, they are placed on a table of items that are “free for the taking,” and don’t count against the patron’s pantry allowance, he said. This week, that table included cereal bars, along with canned pork, dried milk and other items. There also were dog treats that sit on a sign with two photos of a black dog that states they were donated by Zeb.
Zeb is long gone, but his former owner “donates a big bag of dog treats monthly,” Jerome said. “People will donate dog and cat food — they’re affected by poverty as well.”
Each recipient also can choose among a bar of soap, toilet paper, a toothbrush or toothpaste, baby food, diapers or pet food.
The cupboard is supported by food donations from a number of local businesses, including but not limited to Paradis Foodliner and Brewer Dollar Tree, and “we buy a lot of food from Good Shepherd [Food-Bank],” Jerome said.
“Monetary donations come from the community at large and our member churches,” he said.
The U.S. Postal Service’s annual “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive in May provides the pantry with a lot of food, as do food drives done by area Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and other groups.
“Right now, since it’s [near] summer, we got a large donation from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Plant a Row program, and Eastern Maine Healthcare System’s employee garden,” Jerome said.
Brewer Christian Food Cupboard also is designated as The Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP for the Brewer area and serves residents in the city and Dedham, Eddington, Holden and Orrington.
“TEFAP is a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income needy persons, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance,” the program’s website states.
Around a decade ago, the Brewer Christian Food Cupboard became a nonprofit corporation.
It’s run by a board of directors composed of representatives from the city’s area churches, said Jerome, who is a parishioner of the North Brewer-Eddington United Methodist Church.
When operating out of St. Patrick’s basement, the pantry had no overhead. That has changed with the new location, which requires $1,000 monthly rent plus utilities.
To raise funds, the Brewer Christian Food Cupboard is planning a number of fundraisers and will hold an Inaugural Award Banquet and Auction Oct. 12 at Jeff’s Catering. Trans-Tech Industries Inc. is sponsoring the event, which will include the first-ever presentation of the Anne C. Piper Community Service Award. The award will be given to St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church for hosting the food cupboard for nearly 30 years.
The cupboard is open 10 a.m.-noon Wednesdays and Fridays.