For several years before 2014, the Teamsters Local 340 labor union used the annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival as a vehicle to feed the hungry throughout Aroostook County.
Setting off from one end of the state and making stops to collect food and donations along the way, the organization collected on average 34,500 pounds of food and $3,000 in donations in the last few years, Traci Place, a business agent for the union, said last week.
But the organization lost major donors in the last couple of years and wasn’t able to sponsor the drive last year.
The economy itself has affected major businesses across the state, Place said, and some of the people who lost their jobs are turning to food pantries to access the goods they once donated to the Teamsters.
With that need in mind and with renewed focus, the organization is back this year with the food drive and a float in the Maine Potato Blossom parade.
Donations of money and food will benefit Catholic Charities Maine “Feed The County” Food Drive program. Feed The County maintains two food banks that supply food to 24 food pantries throughout The County.
“This year we are focusing our efforts more on monetary donations,” Place said. “But we will accept food donations as well. Catholic Charities has partnered with Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn and has the ability to purchase food at a terrific discount.”
The Teamsters also partners with two schools for “backpack programs,” which supply children with extra food in backpacks during weekends and holidays, and through Aroostook Area on Aging to assist 455 senior citizens.
Each $100 donation allows for the purchase of 900 pounds of food, according to Place.
She said that 480,000 pounds of food is needed to feed the hungry each year.
The Teamsters received a big hit to their food drive when the J.J. Nissen Bakery in Biddeford and Portland went out of business two years ago. The Teamsters usually received a donation of two to three truckloads of bread from the bakery and its employees each July.
“That was a huge loss for us to have two to three truckloads of bread gone,” Place said.
On July 17, the Teamsters Joint Council 10 tractor-trailer truck will travel from Kittery to Fort Fairfield, stopping along the way so members of Teamsters Local 340 can fill it with nonperishable food donations.
On July 18, the tractor-trailer will participate in the Potato Blossom Festival parade. Teamsters members and representatives from Catholic Charities of Maine will collect canned goods and donations along the parade route.
The organization helped 40,262 in 2009, according to statistics from the Teamsters.
Through its Feed the County program, Catholic Charities maintains its own food bank and supplies goods to 24 food pantries in Aroostook County from Wytopitlock to St. Francis and Fort Fairfield to Ashland.
Teamsters Local 340 has nearly 4,000 members statewide. It is made up of truck drivers, warehouse workers, skilled employees, and state, county and municipal employees throughout Maine, according to the union’s website.
Any monetary donations may be made out to Catholic Charities Maine and can be sent to 144 Thadeus Street, South Portland, ME, 04106.