Sherry Cobb, who headed Area Interfaith Outreach from 2014 to 2017, was named “President Emerita” by the AIO Board of Directors on March 13 for her years of dedication to reducing food insecurity in Knox County.
Cobb joined the AIO board as the representative for founding member Nativity Lutheran Church in Rockport in 2004. After she was elected board president in 2014, she launched a weekend backpack program to send food home on weekends with children who receive free or reduced lunches.
“Many children depend on getting breakfasts and lunches at school,” Cobb said, “but there was evidence that many have too little to eat on weekends. As a food pantry, clearly AIO could help.” She chose to start with the two schools across the street from the Rockland food pantry, South Elementary and Rockland District Middle School (now Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston), where 55 percent of the student population in those schools were eligible. By December 2014, 12 schools in the county were involved.
Cobb noted that the weekend backpack assembly line, which meets in Rockport’s Nativity Lutheran Church basement every Thursday morning at 9:30 during the school year, never has fewer than 25 volunteers.
“The other thing I love about the backpack program is that the people who meet at the assembly line become friends with people from all over the county,” she said. The food is mostly purchased from the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn and delivered to the church monthly. The backpacks are assembled and then loaded into crates that are delivered to each participating school. The entire process usually takes place in 45 minutes or less and is entirely managed by volunteers.
Along with managing her army of 160 volunteers, or “ambassadors,” as she calls them, Sherry also took responsibility for raising money for the newly christened Child Hunger program. Grants from Maine-based and local foundations, private donations and community events now support the program, which serves about 350 children in 17 schools from Thomaston to Washington to St. George. Six schools offer in-school food pantries instead of weekend backpacks.
This work has been widely recognized. In 2015 Cobb was named one of “6 Who Care” by WCSH Channel 6 in Portland, and they also presented her with the annual Mary Rines Thompson Award, which recognizes “a person who epitomizes the spirit of volunteerism.” In 2017, Camden National Bank presented her with their state-wide “Leaders and Luminaries” Grand Prize award. During her tenure as president, AIO was also given a FairPoint Communications statewide award for connecting and serving Maine communities.
Cobb recently handed off her single-handed responsibility for the backpack program to an entire team of AIO volunteers and plans to get back to her gardening (she’s also a master gardener) and writing novels. “I’m sure I’ll discover other ways to be useful to the community,” she said, “but it was time. I’m so pleased that all of AIO’s work serving Knox County remains in good hands.”
Established in 1990 by 12 churches in Knox County, Area Interfaith Outreach is a nonprofit all-volunteer organization serving residents of the county. For more information, see aiofoodpantry.org and www.knoxadoptabackpack.org.