Rayna Leibowitz packs a bag of groceries Thursday while giving a tour to a visitor at the Litchfield Food Bank. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

LITCHFIELD — Litchfield Food Bank Director Rayna Leibowitz shed tears of joy when she heard the facility would receive a $50,000 grant from the Good Shepherd Food Bank to help with a new building.

The food bank is currently located on 491 Richmond Road, in the former Gowell’s Store building. Building owner Rick Gowell allowed the food bank to operate there after Gowell’s Shop ‘n Save was built.

The Litchfield Food Bank has operated out of this location since March 6, 2019.

Leibowitz said they were first located on the far right end of the building. Last year they were moved to the opposite end of the building, which was renovated with access to a walk-in cooler.

“The food bank moved to this end of the building around the same time that drive-thru curbside service was being implemented around the state for food banks, and that was a good model for us because this space is physically smaller, by quite a bit, than what we previously had,” she said.

The food bank serves up to 45 households per week, however the current level is below that. The service is eligible to anyone who lives in Litchfield.

“Simply prove you’re a resident of Litchfield, and we provide an opportunity for folks to get groceries every week at that location,” she said.

The exterior of the Litchfield Food Bank on Thursday. The group recently received a grant from Good Shepherd Food Bank and plans to get a new building. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Leibowitz said it’s difficult to provide an estimate of the current space’s square footage, since it’s not in the shape of a square or rectangle, but that it is a small space with four refrigerators, three freezers, and several shelves.

She said the pantry applied for the grant in December, and that it will specifically help with the new building, including site work, a concrete pad, framing, doors, windows, a heating and electrical system, and shelving.

The grant did not require any match.

“We do have some funds to put toward the process, but this did not require a matching amount,” said Leibowitz.

With the price of labor and materials fluctuating wildly, Leibowitz said it’s unclear how much the total project will cost, and that when she spoke to contractors they were not able to provide a solid estimate as to how much everything will cost in the spring.

“It’s really a huge unknown,” she said of the costs. “We’ll try to leverage as much volunteer labor as possible and solicit donations and contributions and try to make it all work.”

Leibowitz said that while a new location has been selected, she can not say specifically where it will be as arrangements have not yet been confirmed. She did say, however, that it will be larger and in a more central location.

“It’s a more convenient location, because it’s physically centered in the town,” she said. “That’s important. Litchfield is a big community, and if someone has to travel a long distance it may be enough to deter them from using our services. Having a central location is really desirable and that’s what we’re looking at.”

The larger building will also allow the food bank to serve more people, and allow people to enter the facility to pick which canned or boxed foods they prefer. The current facility is too small to allow guests to walk through and select their items.

“When we have the bigger building we can actually invite clients to come in and make their own selections,” she said. “That’s more comfortable for them and it allows them to obtain the foods their families will eat. I may put a can of canned peas or a can of canned carrots in a box for distribution, but if that family doesn’t care for canned peas they’ll never eat those. Self selection is desirable, but we simply have not had the room to have clients come in.”

And though the current food bank is small, Leibowitz said clients have never left hungry. The new building, on the other hand, will provide a better variety and allow them to potentially serve more people.

Looking ahead, the rough timeline is for construction to begin in spring.

“A lot will depend on how readily available building materials are,” Leibowitz said, adding that with restrictions and limitations in place with construction materials, there are many variables and uncertainties ahead in terms of determining an opening date for the new facility.

“We just are very excited that we can start the process, and we will go as fast and as far as possible this construction year,” she said.

Leibowitz said she’s optimistic about what the future will bring.

“This is such a positive event,” she said. “It’s a recognition of the value of what we are doing, and we are very appreciative of that recognition and excited to continue our efforts.” 

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