PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — As the holidays draw near, the Grace Interfaith Food Table can cross a larger facility off its wish list.
Previously located at 24 Industrial St., the GIFT food pantry has moved across the road to 11 Industrial St., the former Industrial Street One-Stop.
“We’ve been looking for a while because of a need for more space both to store food in and to serve clients,” said Michele Lombard-Fowler, president of the GIFT board of directors. “We’ve been trying to find some place that was accessible and had the right balance of space that we could afford, and this came up toward the end of the summer. We were officially here as of Nov. 1.”
With nearly twice the square footage, Lombard-Fowler said the additional space makes multitasking much easier.
“The response to our new location has been very positive. It’s bigger and brighter, and everyone — including the volunteers — appreciates the additional space,” she said. “While we were grateful to have use of our former facility, we simply outgrew it.”
Comparing last January-October to this year, Lombard-Fowler said use of the food pantry has increased significantly.
“We’ve seen over 900 more individuals over that time frame, or an average of almost 200 more families,” she said. “In terms of being able to get food, store it and have it available, we just were very limited, and at times we weren’t able to accommodate things in a timely fashion.”
GIFT helps meet hunger needs in Presque Isle, Mapleton, Chapman, Castle Hill and Crouseville. More than 500 households in those communities received assistance in 2010, and the food pantry prepared an average of 60 food boxes each month last year.
The food pantry was legally incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2003.
GIFT receives food donations from a variety of places.
“Feeding America is the nationwide food bank that — through affiliated memberships — funnels food through the Good Shepherd Food Bank which funnels through Catholic Charities, which distributes to about 24 food pantries in the area, so once a month we get a distribution from them,” said Lombard-Fowler. “We also have our own individual membership with Good Shepherd.
“We also get money and food donations from our four member churches, Grant Memorial United Methodist Church, Presque Isle United Congregational Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church,” she said, “as well as donations from individuals and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and the United Way of Aroostook.”
People in need can call GIFT at 764-8584 from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. on Mondays.
“When they call, they make an appointment to pick up food on Tuesdays during those same hours,” said Lombard-Fowler. “Because the number of clients is increasing, we’re adding Wednesdays — as needed — to the days when people can pick up food.
“People come in and choose some of the food that they get. We do have emergency boxes available if somebody just comes in, or they can get a pre-selected box, but we allow for people to have some choices in what they receive,” she said. “When they come in, a volunteer will go around with them and show them what we have. If they have some sort of dietary limitation, we try to work with them on that, as well.”
With a struggling economy, Lombard-Fowler said the food budget is where some people “cut” from first.
“GIFT provides food freely and unconditionally to individuals and families during times when it is difficult to make ends meet,” she said. “We’re seeing some people for the first time … on their own they were trying to make do, but it’s come to the point where they need some help. Maybe they have taken in a parent or other relative and with that additional expense comes some additional challenges. That’s why GIFT is here.”
Food donations can also be dropped off during the regular hours of operation.
For more information, call 764-8584.