ROCKLAND, Maine — The demands on operators of food pantries and soup kitchens in the state are increasing, causing concerns that there may not be enough food or that the hungry won’t have the fuel to get to the food.

Eric Charlton, who volunteers at the Camden Area Christian Food Pantry, said in an interview Friday that people in the area are often too proud to come forward and say, “I need help.”

“I feel we haven’t seen anything yet,” he said of the economy.

Charlton remembers the shortage of food in the 1930s in his native coal-mining village in the northern part of England. Financial conditions today remind him of that time. Charlton believes that 2009 is going to be a “tremendously difficult year.”

People also are facing transportation problems, he pointed out.

“In the 1930s, people could walk from their homes to the food kitchens,” he said. “Now we have people living in the woods 10 miles out who can’t get to the food.

“I guess now we’ve got to try to think ahead to increase our efforts to help,” he said.

Nancy Laite, Healthy Maine Partnership program specialist for the Knox County Community Health Coalition office in Rockland, agrees that, besides the lack of food, the No. 1 problem hungry people in Knox County face is transportation.

“A lot of these other issues hinge on better transportation,” she said.

Laite participated recently with other social service providers in a Food Pantry Forum in Rockland.

“We were very pleased with the turnout, especially with folks who came over from the islands,” said Laite. “It was an opportunity for some of the folks who volunteer with the programs to exchange experiences.

“Knox County is often looked at as a wealthy county because of the coast, but we have real poverty here,” she said.

“It’s good that people are already starting to be aware and talk about the problem,” she added.

Concerned about the quality of food people will eat, Laite has distributed a four-page newsletter called, “Eating Healthy on a Budget,” showing people how to save money without sacrificing quality.

The newsletter is available through the coalition by calling 594-5440.

Barbara Lannamann of the Camden Area Christian Food Pantry said a few people coming in for food have needed gas money to get home and have received a $5 credit for gas.

According to a Salvation Army officer in Rockland, the demand this year for Thanksgiving baskets, Christmas baskets and toys for children has gone up.

“Last year, we provided toys for 154 children. This year it’s up to 198 children,” said the spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.

“There is a tremendous increase of people needing food,” she said.

Judy Terrio of Area Interfaith Outreach said organizations such as the Boy Scouts have helped collect food.

The Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry on Friday collected 13 barrels of food totaling 1,967 pounds for the annual Thanksgiving food collection.

“Each business put a barrel outside their office, and the Coast Guard helped to collect them all today,” Terrio said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also sent 38 cases of food for distribution, she said.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had a lot of food come in,” Terrio said.

Area Interfaith Outreach sends a truck to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn, which distributes millions of pounds of food to more than 600 food pantries statewide annually.

“Sometimes we have to wait all day, and sometimes there’s not much on the shelves, but we always come back with food,” she said.

Maine’s proud tradition of self-reliance can work against people in need.

A group in Unity recently conducted a weatherization effort to tighten up homes against the cold in that community. Organizers knew that many people would refuse help in a form they perceived as charity, but that they were willing to participate if they could turn around and help others.

gchappell@bangordailynews.net

236-4598