April 27, 2018
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Disputes of the few risk the hunger of the many

By Bob Roberts, Special to the BDN

My wife and I are co-directors of the Bangor Food Cupboard. In the July 5 Bangor Daily News article “ Food pantries upset over rising Good Shepherd Food-Bank fees,” the BDN concentrated on two out of over 650 food pantries served by Good Shepherd. Did BDN ask some of the other food pantries how they feel about Good Shepherd? We met and talked with a photographer from the BDN, but our comments were not included in the article.

Here are some points to consider:

The 16 cents per pound fee for salvaged foods is not for food, it is for overhead costs. The fee has actually remained the same for over five years even though food prices have been steadily climbing. Many foods are provided to the food pantries for free. Good Shepherd also has contracts with 20 farmers for fresh produce. This fee does not come close to providing for the overhead associated with running the business. In an ideal world, all the food would be free, but this is far from an ideal world.

The BDN reported “the shared maintenance fees of up to $2 per pound” were charged for food items purchased wholesale and then re-sold to the food cupboards. These goods fill the gaps in the food needed for best possible nutrition. They are purchased from the same out-of-state wholesalers used by national chains.

The average fee, however, is 67 cents per pound and can be as low as 16 cents a pound. Good Shepherd transports these purchases to Maine, then distributes the food to various drop-off points around the state for food pantries with no delivery charges.

Diane Dunton, the chairperson of the board for Good Shepherd, takes no salary. Regarding all decisions on Richard Small, her brother in law, she recuses herself. Richard Small is paid a salary of $79,000 to run a business with an annual budget of $6 million and 56 employees. Of all the other food banks in New England, his salary is the lowest. The average is $93,000.

I have owned a business with four employees. I worked an average of 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week. My longest day was 22 hours. In 20 years I never took time off. If you base Mr. Small’s salary on the hours he actually works, you will find that he gets barely over minimum wage. How many of you are willing to put that many hours into your job?

In the article, Rusty Roberts of Blue Hill says that Good Shepherd has become “a little too corporate” and “let go some volunteers … and hired [replacements].” A common precept of any organization is that there has to be a centralized core and regulated protocols. When you are moving goods, this means centralized storage facilities and methods of distribution. It would actually cost the food pantries more if there were not efficient distribution systems in place.

As to the second point regarding the letting go of some of its volunteers and hiring people to take their places, Good Shepherd hired five former volunteers as paid employees. But, more to the point, if you want to get more work from someone, it is best to pay them.

Nothing against volunteers; no charity can survive without them. But you need three to five times as many volunteers to do the same job as a paid worker. Employees know their livelihood depends on being there every day. Volunteers have their own lives to lead. Except for a few dedicated core volunteers, most do the work for the pleasure of it. Since we began as co-directors of the Bangor Food Cupboard, we have struggled with keeping schedules filled. Often we are called just before we open and told someone cannot be there or we are not called at all.

Nothing in this world is free. Good Shepherd is a business that must run smoothly and efficiently, requiring dedicated people and money. Richard Small and Good Shepherd find the best “bang for the buck” for the hungry in Maine. I am in awe at how much Mr. Small and Good Shepherd accomplish at such low fees.

Bob Roberts is co-director of the Bangor Ecumenical Food Cupboard.

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