FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Every year for the past six years in the week leading up to the Maine Potato Blossom Festival, Traci Place has had one figure on her mind — 480,000.
That is the total pounds of food the business agent for the South Portland-based Teamsters Local 340 said on Wednesday that it takes annually to feed the hungry throughout Aroostook County. Each year, in order to satisfy that need, the Teamsters union participates in a statewide Feed The County Food Drive.
The initiative, in its seventh year, benefits Catholic Charities of Maine Hunger and Relief Food Banks in The County through its “Feed The County” collection campaign. The Maine Potato Blossom Festival parade serves as a vehicle for the effort, and on Saturday, July 16, Teamsters members and representatives from Catholic Charities of Maine will collect donations and food along the parade route.
Last year, Place said, Teamsters collected between $6,000 and $6,500 in monetary donations and 100,000 pounds of food.
In the past, Place said, the Teamsters used to stop in various locations as they drove north across the state and The County with a tractor-trailer and fill it with food until they got to Fort Fairfield. The local union stopped the practice about two years ago when the J.J. Nissen Bakery in Biddeford and Portland went out of business in 2013, and the Teamsters lost a donation of about two to three truckloads of bread from the bakery and its employees.
“Now, we like to focus more on monetary donations, because each donation of $100 enables the purchase of 900 pounds of food,” she said. “That really makes monetary donations much more effective than food purchased at the retail store. But of course we don’t discourage the donation of food. We still bring the Teamsters Joint Council 10 truck to the parade. We have just changed the focus to make it more on monetary donations, because it takes a minimum of 40,000 pounds of food per month to feed the hungry.”
Place said she was shocked to hear that most of the Aroostook County residents seeking help at the food banks are elderly or disabled, and that some food pantries are partnering with schools.
“The fact that they need to fill in that gap for children, whether it is on the weekend or holidays, that is devastating,” she said. “It just motivates us more.”
Dixie Shaw, director of Catholic Charities Maine, confirmed Place’s statement about the pantry demographic. She also said that the need for help never lets up.
“[The elderly and disabled] are unable to make ends meet,” Shaw said. “Food pantries allow them to get additional help with their basic need of food on their table.”
Teamsters Local 340, which has nearly 4,000 members statewide, is made up of truck drivers, warehouse workers, skilled employees, and state, county and municipal employees, according to the union’s website.
Checks written during the parade may be made out to Catholic Charities Maine. Food and monetary donations are tax deductible and will be collected along the parade route on Saturday.