Bryant Pond 4-H Center staff and volunteers load their van with food for distribution to six local food pantries.

BETHEL — The Maine West coalition has helped coordinate an effort to resupply food pantries in western Maine that have been hit with increased demand due to job loss and financial hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Volunteers delivered the food to six pantries that serve 400 families in Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield, Peru, Canton, Byron, Roxbury, Andover and Weld.

“This was a community effort,” said Allie Burke, executive director of the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition, a Maine West partner. “We had a volunteer step forward to manage the project, Sunday River pitched in both financially and with help from their staff, and the 4-H Learning Center at Bryant Pond managed all the logistics. It was really inspiring to see everyone jump in to make this happen quickly.”

To fund the effort, Sunday River contributed $3,000, the Maine West coalition contributed $2,500, the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn added $1,000, and United Way of Androscoggin County donated $750.

To get the project going, River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition contacted the six food pantries in the River Valley region to determine what they needed. The staff at Sunday River ordered the food through their regular suppliers and had it delivered to the University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond, where staff and volunteers repackaged commercial size supplies, such as 50-pound bags of flour and sugar into 5-pound bags for household use.

Bryant Pond 4-H Center staff then delivered the food to Andover Food Pantry, Canton Food Pantry, Dixfield Food Pantry, GRAMPA Food Pantry in Mexico, Servant’s Heart Food Pantry in Peru, and Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford.

In addition to supporting this partnership with Sunday River and the Bethel Food Pantry, Maine West has contributed an additional $3,000 to support efforts by local school districts to extend meal programs to serve families struggling with food security.

Maine West partners include Community Concepts Finance Corp., Appalachian Mountain Club, Androscoggin River Watershed Council, Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, CORE, Mahoosuc Pathways, The Trust for Public Land, Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, Western Foothills Land Trust, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The University of Maine  4-H Center at Bryant Pond, Mahoosuc Land Trust, Region 9 Adult Education, Oxford County Resiliency Project and River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition.

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