OAKFIELD, Maine — Debbie Gray is working to quash a rumor that has been spreading throughout southern Aroostook County.
“Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry is not closed,” Gray stressed Thursday afternoon. “There has been a rumor going around for a month that we are all closed up, but that is not true. We are open and are accepting donations and we want to help people.”
The food pantry first opened during the fall of 2004, and November has been a cruel month for the organization.
In November 2004, someone stole almost 200 pounds of meat from the pantry during a late evening or early morning burglary. Shelter operators had just secured a 300-pound donation of hot dogs, chicken, pot roast and ham from Tyson Foods. Volunteers sliced up the meat and packaged it, planning to put it in Christmas bas-kets that year. The thief was never caught, but the pantry did manage to get the baskets out.
Two years later, in November 2006, someone burglarized the pantry and made off with more than $200 worth of food and beverages. No arrests were made.
This November, the false rumor of the pantry’s closing has been the setback. Gray said that it has had a huge impact on both the pantry and those who rely on it to help feed themselves and their families.
“We had been wondering why our cash donations and our food donations had all of a sudden stopped,” she said. “And then someone told us about the rumor that has been going around.”
The nonprofit organization is a member of the Good Shepherd Food-Bank. Along with relying on donations from the community, the pantry purchases food from Good Shepherd at low prices to stock its shelves. With no cash coming in, it can’t purchase food, and without canned goods and other donations from the community, it has little food to give out.
“I know that the economy has played a big role in the drop-off in donations,” Gray acknowledged. “But the rumor has hurt us too. It has grown so big. There are still families out there in need, and we have been working hard to keep feeding the people. I can’t tell you how many times the money to purchase food has come out of the founders’ pockets.”
The pantry’s operation also has been impeded by the loss of the truck it used to pick up and deliver food. In March, the pantry’s truck was in a collision with a loaded log truck. The vehicle was insured, but the insurance company has not yet released funds to purchase a new truck.
Despite that, Gray said Thursday that she would find a way to have large donations picked up if they were made.
Gray said the pantry is in desperate need of all types of food, from canned goods to meat, potatoes and vegetables. Thanks to a donation from Paradis Shop ’n Save in Houlton last month, the pantry was able to distribute 25 food boxes for Thanksgiving. They are looking to distribute turkey, ham and other goods for Christmas, but need the public’s help to do so.
“We have just received news that we are going to be receiving a donation of hamburger and cubed steaks,” she said, adding that other donations also have started to trickle in. “But we need canned goods. And, if we could get some turkey and ham, we’d really like to send out those Christmas baskets.”
For information on the pantry’s hours of operation or to donate, contact Gray at 521-4239 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions can be mailed to Nature’s Bounty Food Pantry, 299 Thompson Settlement Road, Oakfield 04763