BREWER — In these hard economic times, food cupboards are finding themselves caught between increasing demand and declining donations.
The Brewer Christian Food Cupboard is hoping to raise both awareness and funds with its Second Annual Awards Banquet and Fund-Raiser at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 27, at Jeff’s Catering, 15 Littlefield Way, in Brewer.
The cupboard, which has been helping people for 30 years, is a coordinated effort by eight Brewer and Eddington churches: St. Joseph’s Catholic, St. Theresa’s Catholic, St. Patrick’s Episcopal, First Congregational, Second Congregational, First United Methodist, North Brewer-Eddington Methodist, and East Eddington Community.
The cupboard is staffed by about 50 volunteers.
“About 20 [four each shift] work throughout the month during open hours to help distribute food to clients,” part-time manager Jim Roche explained. “The others work as needed to sort food, stock shelves, represent their churches on the board of directors, help raise funds, and whatever else needs to be done.”
It receives donations from businesses, organizations, food drives, and individuals. Donations are a cyclical thing, Roche said. “Usually in January; the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays bring a lot of donations and then it slumps the first part of the year,” he said. “Donations pickup in February and then slump again during the summer months when church attendance is down and folks are on vacation.”
For much of that time, the cupboard was housed at St. Patrick’s, but it moved a year and a half ago to 71 Central St.
“We had outgrown the space and had to store food at a different warehouse location,” explained Mary Ann Perry, vice president of the food cupboard’s board and chairperson of the upcoming fundraiser.
The cupboard’s mission has evolved through the years. “Every year, [the number of participants] goes higher and higher,” Perry said. “We used to service all the towns that touch Brewer, but we’ve had to pull back to just Brewer and Eddington residents over the last couple of years. Fortunately, those other towns have access to another food cupboard.”
Having its own space means that the food cupboard now has overhead costs to deal with: rent, utilities, Roche’s salary, and about $1,000 a month with which to purchase food.
In February, the cupboard helped 140 families or about 400 individuals. Roche, in his fourth years with the cupboard, said that that number is about the average now.
Roche said the cupboard’s volunteers try to supply three to five days’ worth of food to each participant.
The cupboard faces the added crunch of donations being down, not just to it, but to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which serves as a distribution center to about 600 agencies statewide.
As a result, Roche estimated that half of the food the cupboard distributes is from donations, while the other half is purchased by cupboard volunteers.
“We shop at Good Shepherd’s Brewer warehouse,” he said. “They do give some food for free, but we also buy salvage food for 16 cents a pound [this food is donated by stores like Hannaford and Wal-Mart]; we also buy new food by the case there at a reduced price.
“Right now donations to Good Shepherd are down, so there is less for us there, so we need to buy at the local grocery at shelf price. All of this is part of the $1,000 we budget each month,” he said.
What are those items? Roche listed meat, canned goods, toilet paper and cereal.
What donations does the cupboard need most? Roche picked cereal, toilet paper, instant potatoes, canned fruit, and spaghetti sauce. Donations can be dropped off at the cupboard during business hours, or Roche will make special arrangements to meet people.
Of course, money would come in handy as well. The Second Annual Awards Banquet and Fundraiser will feature cocktails, a silent auction, and a 50/50 raffle, with entertainment by ragtime pianist Jazzou Jones.
Items for the silent auction are still being solicited, Perry said, but early offerings include two tickets to the Penobscot Theatre Company production of “Ink,” a sea-glass pendant worth $95, a lamp-work pendant worth $125, homemade craft items, and gift certificates from area businesses.
This year’s Ann K. Piper Memorial Award winner is Paradis Foodliner. “They give us lots of food,” Perry said. “They’ve been right there anytime we ask.”
Tickets for the awards banquet are $20 and must be reserved by March 20. They are available at Paradis Foodliner in the North Brewer Shopping Center, or by calling 989-1851.
The Brewer Christian Food Cupboard, 71 Central St., is open 10 a.m.-noon, Wednesdays and Fridays; 12 noon-2 p.m., the second Saturday of each month; and 6-8 p.m., the fourth Thursdays of each month. For more information, call 949-4944.