50-pound sacks of flour sit ready to be repackaged into household-sizes for food pantries. Submitted photo

Volunteer Dee Fournier helped repackage food at the Bryant Pond 4-H Center for distribution to local food pantries in western Maine. Submitted photo

REGION — The Maine West coalition 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.

“We had 7 staff and volunteers here over several weeks to get the food repackaged into useable sizes for the food pantries,” said Ron Fournier, director of the 4-H Center which is also a Maine West partner. “We had everyone appropriately spaced out and wearing gloves and masks, of course. I think everyone felt really good to be doing something that would help our community.”

“We used $5,750 of the project funds to purchase food for the pantries,” said local volunteer Dave Bean, who coordinated the effort, “and we used the remaining $1,000 to create food boxes that will be distributed through the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition.”

Maine West is a partnership of local and regional organizations dedicated to addressing systemic rural challenges and enhancing community well-being in western Maine through increased collaboration across the economic, education, health and conservation sectors. The Northern Forest Center coordinates Maine West.

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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