RUMFORD — Citing a lack of donations, the Praise Assembly of God Church is closing its food pantry to the public beginning Thursday.

“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” said Justin Thacker, pastor of the church at 89 Congress St. “There’s no way we can afford it. We don’t receive any government funding. We’re donations only.”

Thacker said food from the pantry will be available only for families that have genuine emergencies, such as a house fire or loss of a job.

“I’ve asked Tom (Bourret, director of Rumford General Assistance), to refer emergencies as he would define it,” Thacker said.

Sharon LeClair, the food pantry director at the church, said this will affect an estimated 40 families a month.

“It’s gone down, though,” LeClair said. “We’ve had some really quiet days.”

Thacker said they’ve met with those families to discuss alternatives, and is passing out fliers to give people notice of the changes.

Thacker said the changes are necessary because donations were down $10,000 in 2016.

“We can’t just keep food on the shelves, and certainly haven’t been able to help with other benevolent requests because we’re having to use so much money,” Thacker said. “We’ve even taken money from the church’s general fund since September to keep the food pantry going.”

Without that added money, Thacker said, the food pantry would be $1,500 in the red.

“If our donations begin to increase, we’ll certainly buy food,” he said.

Sue Byam, director of the Greater Rumford Area Ministers and Priests Association (GRAMPA) food pantry in Mexico, added that she understands his situation.

“I’ve had thoughts that when this money I have on hand runs out, if nothing else comes in, we’ll have no choice but to close,” Byam said. “It’s not good.”

In lieu of closing the food pantry, Thacker said, the church will open The Good News Cafe on March 7.

“We’re going to offer coffee and refreshments,” he said.

The coffeehouse will be open from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Thursdays, but will be closed if Regional School Unit 10 is closed.

On Tuesdays, current events will be discussed, as well as the role of God and the Bible in today’s world.

On Wednesdays, history and the Middle East from the Bible will be the topic of the discussion.

On Thursdays, there will be a parent group, with a discussion about how to raise children to be healthy spiritually, physically and mentally in an unsafe world. For children in prekindergarten to fifth grade, there will be crafts, stories and games.

There will also be live entertainment with Christian artists.

“What I’m hoping is that by getting more people into the coffeehouse, that donations will start to go up so that we can put food on the shelves,” Thacker said.

In addition, the church will continue to offer dinner every Wednesday night and a community lunch in the afternoon on the last Thursday of the month.

With the school district providing free meals to students, Thacker doesn’t believe there’s a hunger problem.

“The food stamps is doing their job, and the school district is doing their job by providing breakfast and lunch,” Thacker said. “When you think about it, all parents have to provide is dinner, and maybe a snack during the workweek. Food stamps, on average, hasn’t gone down for families with kids.”

There’s still a problem with seniors, he said, but they’re not the ones coming to the food pantry.

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Citing a lack of donations, the Praise Assembly of God Church at 89 Congress St. in Rumford is shutting down its food pantry to the public beginning Thursday.

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