Winslow food pantry struggles to keep up as demand surges

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WINSLOW — Organizers of a food pantry are asking for monetary donations, food and volunteers as it experiences another record-high month of demand for its services.

On the second and fourth Thursday of each month, the Winslow Community Cupboard opens to about 220 people who roll up to the parking lot behind the Winslow Congregational Church to receive a distribution of food for their families. The 27 volunteers who work to fill orders were serving 150 families last December.

That’s a 47% increase in families seeking assistance from the food pantry. And with about 18 to 20 families joining that queue of cars down Lithgow Street each month, demand is ever-increasing, organizers say. So, too, are the pantry’s operating costs.

A misconception about the Winslow Community Cupboard, and food pantries more generally, is that they receive donated food for free, according to the cupboard’s operations manager, Bruce Bottigliere.

Volunteer Scott McAdoo greets people and hands them a list of food to choose from during a food giveaway Thursday at the Winslow Community Cupboard. The food pantry is housed at Winslow Congregational Church on Lithgow Street. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As a partner with the Good Shepherd Food Bank based in Auburn, Winslow’s pantry receives tens of thousands of pounds of food at a rate of 16 cents a pound. And those costs add up. The Cupboard on Monday received 32,000 lbs. of food from Good Shepherd. That is over $5,000 spent on food this week alone to feed all the families it serves from 24 different towns. In August, the cupboard provided more than 80,000 pounds, at a cost of just less than $13,000.

Bottigliere said that with more funding, he could broaden his selection of food choices, afford some higher-end products and continue providing an individualized service to each client. While other pantries curate uniform, pre-packaged boxes for clients, each car approaching the Cupboard is met by a volunteer, handed a two-page order form, and asked to “pick and choose” the items they want — from meat and fresh produce to dog bones and toiletries.

While people wait for their orders to arrive, they can pick a few items from the “free for all” table at the center of the parking lot, stacked with scrub brushes for dishwashing, piles of fresh baked treats from Hannaford, and a mountain of instant Jell-O. Bottigliere hopes that by the time they leave, people not only have enough food for the next few hours or days, but for the two weeks before they return to the cupboard again.

“We pride ourselves on being different from other food pantries,” he said.

Jim Varney, 53, of Winslow, regularly visits the Cupboard on behalf of his mother who suffers with diabetes. Nearly half of the Cupboard’s customers are, like Jim’s mother, older than 60. And those seeking assistance are struggling with the rising cost of living.

With the virus, rising gas prices earlier in the summer and other pressures, “It’s been one thing after another,” Varney said.

The Cupboard’s assistance means, for many, one less stressor on families forced to make trade-offs between rent or food, electricity or heat, gas or health care.

Bottigliere is hoping the public will donate to keep the Cupboard well-stocked and well-staffed. Though the pantry puts on monthly fundraising events, it is recurring donations of money, food or volunteered time from businesses and people that will ensure the pantry can stick to its ethos of never turning away a hungry person, he said.

Those interested in making a recurring contribution can email [email protected].

Those wishing to make a one-time donation can mail a check, payable to Winslow Community Cupboard, to the Cupboard at 12 Lithgow St. in Winslow, 04901. Credit card or PayPal donations can be made via the link https://winslowucc.org/winslow-community-cupboard.


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Winslow food pantry struggles to keep up as demand surges

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