AUBURN – A big, yellow school bus was parked in front of Shaw’s Saturday to help the less fortunate. A sign on the bus asked shoppers to, “Pack the Bus for the Sisters of Charity Food Pantry.”

And pack they did.

As carts filled with Thanksgiving fixings rolled out of the store, many stopped and gave. People like Pat Casner of Minot and her daughters, Donna Cote of Mechanic Falls and Carol Carver-Cote of New Gloucester.

“We’re eating. Shouldn’t everybody else?” said Cote after the three handed over bags of food.

“It’s a nice thing to do,” said Carver-Cote. “You never know if you’re going to need it.”

Tricia Giard of Auburn said each year she looks for the bus at Shaw’s before Thanksgiving. “I always give. It’s the giving season.”

Michelle Gagnon of Lewiston paused to open her wallet for volunteers Kiin Issa and Mulki Yonis. She had a personal reason for donating. She remembered how St. Mary’s Hospital, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity, helped her. A while back she needed medical care “and my insurance didn’t kick in.” St. Mary’s provided her with assistance “when I needed it most.”

This is the fourth year of “Pack the Bus.” Volunteers said the demand for food is higher this year. Between 200 to 250 families show up at the downtown Lewiston pantry each week needing food, said Lauren Moody, who chairs the food pantry board.

The reason for the spike is rising fuel costs. “A lot are the working poor. They’re working, but it’s very hard to keep it all together,” Moody said. “Our shelves have been very empty. The food goes.”

Saturday will help, she said.

“Pack the bus” buses were at Shaw’s in Lewiston and Auburn from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. accepting both food and cash. By 3 p.m. the bus in Auburn had seats covered with boxes.

One box was full of pasta. Another crackers, another rice, another baby food, and cereal and macaroni and cheese and gravy. On one seat sat three frozen turkeys. The turkeys, in huge demand, will be given out Thursday.

Everyone is being hit with higher fuel costs, yet “people are generous this year,” said volunteer Kathy Watko. Some gave change and $1 bills, and others gave $10 and $20 each. One person gave an entire shopping cart full of food. Some brought more food to the bus than they put in their cars, Watko said. “It’s very moving.”

Volunteer Allen Cosgove said one man especially made his day. The man was blind. He dropped off a bunch of food and walked back to his vehicle. Then he returned, saying: “‘I got some really good deals today. Here’s some more.'”

Teila Vallee, 15, was carrying food on the bus, and was all smiles as she assessed the day. Vallee was among the volunteers from Lewiston High School’s Maine Cadet Corps. Earlier she and other cadets handed out flyers to let shoppers know donations were being accepted.

“People are giving a whole bunch,” Vallee said. “They’re taking the flyers and coming back with food.” Feeding people is a good cause, she said. “People in this town do care.”

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