Shoppers left little on the shelves of many aisles at the Auburn Hannaford grocery store this week. Steve Collins/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN – The president of the state’s largest hunger relief organization in Maine has a simple request for people: Stop hoarding.

“We need people to stop going to the grocery store and buying ridiculous amounts” of almost everything, Kristen Miale, president of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, said Thursday.

“They’re creating a crisis that didn’t exist,” she said.

There’s plenty of food in the pipeline for everyone to carry on as usual, Miale said, but when customers snap up supplies to last for many months, they create artificial shortages that prevent others from getting what they need.

“We have enough food if we don’t hoard it,” Miale said.

The food bank, which supplies local food pantries across the state, provides more than 25 million meals to Mainers every year.

With a public health crisis at hand, which has rocked the economy, there is wide concern that pantries could be in trouble in the weeks ahead.

But Miale said she doesn’t foresee a shortage.

She said the food bank is seeing fewer donations — a consequence of stores selling out of everything — so it’s already begun buying food directly to make sure it doesn’t run out.

In normal times, the food bank gets about 70% of its food from donations, but it’s now eyeing the possibility that donations may sink to zero, Miale said.

She said, though, it has the cash reserves to carry on for a time because they’d planned for the possibility of a crunch like this. Eventually, however, the money will run out.

The way it works is that the food bank operates a couple of large warehouses, including one on Hotel Road, where local pantries come to collect the food they distribute.

In normal times, there are many volunteers on hand to help sort and package what’s sent out all over the state.

Now, though, many volunteers have been told to stay away because they are older and potentially at risk from the coronavirus that’s sweeping the land.

Staff members who can work from home, Miale said, are doing so. Those who can’t are maintaining required social distancing.

Some have jumped in to fill in with warehouse work that volunteers and others had been able to do before, she said.

“We put in a lot of precautions,” she said. Only a few volunteers are still allowed in, Miale said.

The pantries she works with are “incredibly resilient,” Miale said, and they are coping as well with the new restrictions, changing the way they distribute the food locally in some cases to avoid crowds.

Good Shepherd’s website has a list informing people about what local pantries are doing, which is updated to reflect shifts in policies so the public can keep up.

Miale said she is concerned that a lot of the people who volunteer with pantries are in risky categories — age or health problems — but still willing “to put themselves in harm’s way” to lend a hand. She said she’s trying to find ways to protect them.

The food bank has plans to shift more to food boxes and drop off sites, she said, to minimize the in-person contact in the process.

For now, at least, there’s enough food and enough resources to keep plugging away successfully, Miale said.

But if the money dries up or the food runs short, there are other options. In a crisis, she said, the National Guard, the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are all in a position to provide aid.

If people will simply buy only what they need at the stores, that crisis will probably never arise, Miale said.

In the meantime, though, donations are welcome, especially any financial ones that will help stretch the nonprofit’s ability to purchase what’s needed to keep everyone fed. Go to its website to donate.


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