Millinocket ministry receives 2,000-pound food donation

Posted May 13, 2011, at 7:37 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — An anonymous donor gave close to 2,000 pounds of food to ICare Ministries on Friday in what ICare Pastor Herschel Hafford took as support against what he called unfounded accusations that he had been pushing religion on some of his pantry’s clients.

Primarily staple foods and canned goods, the two pallets of items will likely provide enough to serve ICare’s clients for about two weeks, Hafford said, good news given the number of mill workers recently left unemployed in the Katahdin region.

A fellow food pantry operator has promised to call on Monday, and other such operators and local businesses have also called him offering support, Hafford said.

“I am very encouraged,” Hafford said Friday. “People have also stopped in and made donations. People have said that they were for us.”

Good Shepherd Food-Bank officials announced recently that the agency was no longer distributing food via ICare, one of its Katahdin region distributors, due to “compliance issues” with its contract.

A letter Hafford provided quotes Rick Small, president and CEO of Good Shepherd, as saying that it is against Good Shepherd policies “to allow membership to organizations who serve limited populations based on religion or [that] require their consumers to partake in religious services.”

Hafford denied the accusation, adding that the letter was a final termination and that he had been offered no chance to appeal it. Small and other Good Shepherd officials have declined to comment further on their issues with ICare.

The Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill in East Millinocket closed on April 1, idling about 450 workers and devastating an already staggered regional economy, which has never fully recovered from a September 2008 closure of the company’s sister mill in Millinocket. That left 150 workers jobless.

State and local government officials are working to lure investors to revitalize those mills by July 31, when mill parent company Brookfield Asset Management has said it will begin decommissioning the mills.

Hafford said he is seeking other food sources, while Good Shepherd officials have said they are looking to formalize relations with another Katadhin region pantry. Good Shepherd will have a large shipment of food for Kevin’s Kupboard Food Pantry in East Millinocket on May 27 and is also bringing an emergency distribution team to the region in the next week, officials said Friday.

Good Shepherd has sent 150 food mobiles across the state in the last two years, six of which went to the Millinocket area in response to high unemployment and mill closings. Its food mobiles carry as much as 10,000 pounds of free food for families at risk of hunger, officials said.

Hafford said he will be working with Millinocket U.S. Postal Service workers when they collect food door-to-door Saturday as part of an annual food drive. Anyone who wishes to donate food to the workers can leave it by their mailboxes.

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