BANGOR, Maine — One by one, dozens of vehicles made their way through the parking lot of Manna Ministries Inc. on Friday. Some had come from as far away as Newport and Corinna, but the drive was well worth the effort. They had come for food.
Over the last two weeks food pantries throughout eastern Maine had been notified by Manna Ministries, a local food bank and social services provider, that a truckload full of food was on its way from Oklahoma City.
It wasn’t just a pickup truck or a flatbed, Manna director Bill Rae told staff members of the food pantries. It was a semi-truck carrying enough food for 400 Maine families.
“It’s a great day. It’s a fantastic day,” Rae said as he stood overseeing a spirited group of volunteers packing cars full of boxes. “But what the community needs to remember is all this food and supplies is really just a drop in the bucket. We need deliveries like this one 365 days a year because people need to eat year-round.”
The truth of Rae’s statement was evident in the sheer number of vehicles that filled the parking lot and nearly spilled out into the road at 629 Main St. as they awaited their care packages.
Each of the 400 families will receive a 25-pound box of food, a 10-pound box of toiletries and a box of Avon products. The donation was made available to Manna Ministries through an international charity organization called Feed the Children, in Oklahoma City.
The event started at 10 a.m. and was expected to last until the supplies were gone. Earlier in the morning a forklift had unloaded about 20 wooden pallets, each stacked with five rows of boxes.
Volunteers formed an assembly line for vehicles to drive through and receive their packages. It was hectic at times, but the volunteers, consisting of personnel from Manna, as well as members of the community, worked together smiling, clapping and keeping the line moving in order to fill each car.
Participating food pantries were given tickets, according to Rae. One ticket equaled one care package, which would then be distributed by the respective food pantries in their areas. The number of tickets each food bank received was based on the number of families it serves.
Jim Roche, director of the Brewer Christian Food Cupboard, was forced to bring his small Ford Escort station wagon after a larger vehicle he owns broke down earlier in the week. Roche was collecting for 20 families, which meant volunteers at Manna had to arduously stuff his vehicle with 20 boxes of food, 20 boxes of toiletries and 20 boxes of Avon products.
“We’re financially strapped right now. This food is a wonderful gift,” Roche said as he readied his car for a second trip. “We have about 120 families that we serve, and I already know who I’m giving these packages to, because I know who is struggling the most right now.”
Rae and many others interviewed on Friday said the care packages will enable them to meet a growing demand at their facilities. Most said the families they serve have been severely affected by an ailing economy. They said most of the families frequenting their food pantries are of the working and middle class.
According to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September, 44 million Americans, or 14.3 percent of the population, were living below the federal poverty line in 2009, the highest rates in 15 years. In Maine during the same period, one in five children was considered to be living in poverty.
“The price of gas, the price of heating oil and the cost of utilities throughout the winter months have really meant a struggle for many in our community,” said Rae. “We’re serving a growing number of families as the result of a bad economy and our cupboards are bare. Today is a great morale booster.”