ELLSWORTH, Maine — Organizers of a Hancock County-wide food drive are seeking additional donations as rising fuel prices and a slow economic recovery continue to drive up need in local communities.
The first-ever countywide food drive, which ends March 30, aims to collect 12,000 items for distribution to area food pantries, many of which are experiencing increased demand. Every donated food item will be matched with a $1 donation from the United Way of Eastern Maine, the Maine Community Foundation and private donors up to $12,000.
Donations can be dropped off at dozens of locations throughout Hancock County as well as at the Ellsworth Hannaford and Shaw’s between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturday. A list of drop-off locations can be found on the Cooperative Extension in Hancock County’s website.
Requested items include canned vegetables, whole grain rice and pastas, healthful soups, tuna and other canned meats, peanut butter, jelly and low-sugar cereals.
Susan Farley, who is one of the organizers of the food drive, said some food banks have seen dramatic increases in requests for assistance this past year, particularly from senior citizens. Some pantries have reported that demand was up by 30 percent or more, she said.
“I think everybody knows somebody that is going to bed hungry,” Farley said. “We may not realize it, but I think everybody knows somebody.”
Brian Hain, plant manager at Emmaus Homeless Shelter and food pantry in Ellsworth, said he has heard many people talk about how any savings from the milder-than-normal winter disappeared due to rising gas prices. Hain said his and other shelters are heavily dependent on food drives this year to maintain the stocks.
“Our [client] counts are up and the food supply is down,” Hain said.
The Tree of Life Food Pantry in nearby Blue Hill served 171 families last week, which is down from 188 families the previous week and as many as 240 families one week in February.
Numerous schools and businesses are participating in the food drive, with some employing unique techniques to encourage donations.
The Southwest Harbor Public Library, for instance, is running a “Food for Fine” campaign this week in which patrons can have their late fees forgiven if they donate food items.
Camden National Bank employees have been allowed to “dress down” for the day if they bring in five items. And students at Blue Hill Consolidated School are filling a canoe in their lobby in order to donate “a boatload of food.”