RUMFORD – Now that heating oil and gasoline prices have topped $3, more area families than ever are expected to tap into the Mexico food pantry this month.

That’s why programs like Hannaford’s Fund a Feast are so important for people experiencing financial hardships this season, according to Susan Byam of the Greater Rumford Area Ministers and Priests Association Food Pantry.

“I think we’re going to be very, very busy,” Byam said Tuesday afternoon. “Fund a Feast means we’re going to be able to give out more Thanksgiving (holiday) meals.”

On Sunday, Hannaford set up a Fund a Feast display consisting of pre-assembled bags of food that include all the trimmings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Customers can buy a bag for $10, which will then be delivered to the GRAMPA Food Pantry at 163 Main St. inside the Mexico Congregational Church.

In three days, more than two dozen bags had been purchased by customers at the Rumford store at 520 Waldo St.

“I’m very impressed with how it’s working,” Hannaford manager David Duguay said Tuesday afternoon from Lewiston. “What a pleasant surprise and what a great program.”

Each bag contains the following Hannaford brand items: instant roasted mashed potatoes, turkey stuffing mix, sweet corn, fruit pear cocktail, jellied cranberry sauce, turkey gravy mix, and instant chocolate pudding mix. Additional items are Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix, Keebler Graham Cracker Pie Crust, and Dream Whip Topping Mix.

“The reception has been pretty good. We just started on Sunday, so, we’re pleased with it,” Barbara Laramee, non-foods manager said at the Rumford store.

In the past, large boxes were used so customers could drop off food, but hardly anyone other than Hannaford employees helped out, Duguay said.

The bags don’t come with turkeys, but depending on the size of the family or individual getting a bag at the food pantry, either a turkey or chicken will be added by GRAMPA volunteers. Turkeys and additional Thanksgiving items are also being set aside for the Mexico food pantry by the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn.

According to Hannaford’s Web site, the Fund a Feast program began at a single Hannaford supermarket in 2004. The number of participating stores has grown each year.

“Because of the extraordinary response from customers, the program was expanded to include every store this year,” a report states. That means 161 Hannaford stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont will help hunger-relief agencies provide complete Thanksgiving meals and essential staples.

“This is working. It will be a big boost. It’s a pretty good deal, because you don’t have to put up anything, it’s already made up for you,” Byam said.

It’s working so well that Duguay said the Rumford store will do something similar for Christmas.

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