New trash program forces Presque Isle soup kitchen to install fence

Posted March 24, 2011, at 12:21 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The city’s new pay-as-you-throw program, which requires residents and businesses pay for the amount of trash they discard, has at least one non-profit feeling the pinch, forcing it to make some tough decisions.

“We accept donations and everything is given out, free of charge. Now that they’ve changed to pay-as-you-throw, we had to get rid of our Dumpster. We can’t afford it; we’re a soup kitchen,” said Cindy Patten, a volunteer with Martha & Mary’s Soup Kitchen on Parsons Street. The organization is also erecting a fence to limit when and what can be dropped off at the facility in an effort to reduce the amount of donations that end up being trash.

Prior to the program going into effect on March 7, Patten said the agency often had items dropped off at all hours, day or night. While much of what is donated is usable, she said there were still a number of items that went straight to the trash.

“A lot of people leave us a lot of junk — perhaps they’re moving or just cleaning house and figure we could use what they don’t want, broken stuff and all. Unfortunately, our Dumpster would fill up with stuff others don’t want and are only looking to get rid of,” said Patten.

Martha & Mary’s Ministries is an organization that helps the community by providing a warm meal to the hungry, clothes to the cold and food to those who need it. It relies solely on the generosity of others, operating on donations to keep its doors open, according to Patten.

“Martha & Mary’s is made up of all volunteers. We serve free meals to the needy every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 2-5 p.m. We give away monthly food boxes and also provide free clothes and household items,” said Patten. “We have to stretch every dollar we have to be able to keep offering these services.”

With the cost of trash going up from about $32.50 to $90 a ton for nonprofit organizations, Patten said the decision was made to do away with the Dumpster.

“We just couldn’t afford to keep it. Too many people were dropping things off we just couldn’t make use of — items we ended up throwing away. Martha & Mary’s can’t afford the extra cost to dispose of other people’s trash,” she said.

In addition to discontinuing the use of a Dumpster, officials with the nonprofit have made the decision to limit access to the facility.

“We’ve changed our dooryard. We still will take donations, but we need to have them brought when we’re open. We’re installing a fence to limit access to when we’re on site,” Patten said.

Patten said the gate will be left open Monday, Wednesday and Friday during hours of operation. But when the facility isn’t open, the gate will be locked.

“We’ll try to be as accommodating as possible. If someone wishing to make a donation can’t do it during our regular hours, arrangements can be made for someone to meet them for a dropoff,” said Patten.

The decision to gate the facility wasn’t made lightly, she said.

“We’re doing what we have to do to prevent people from leaving damaged items that we ultimately have to throw away. We just can’t afford to continue as we’ve done in the past,” said Patten. “We’re also working with a local pig farmer to take older vegetables, food items. That’s helped us reduce our trash by about a bag a week.”

Patten said she’s hoping the public will understand the fence was necessary to ensure the soup kitchen’s future.

“We want people to know they’re still welcome, we just have limited staff and can’t be on the premises as often as we’d like,” said Patten.

Anyone wanting more information about the soup kitchen or wanting to schedule a time to drop something off can call the nonprofit at 764-0758 or Patten at 764-3690 and leave a message weekdays.

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