HARRISON — Eight months after the Harrison Food Bank got word it would receive a $388,000 federal grant as part of the federal government’s Build Back Better plan, Congress has finally authorized the funds for it.

The grant is making it possible to enlarge the building and repair and pave the parking lot. Operations Manager and founder Sandy Swett did not let the delay of red tape slow down the project, though. Work on the food bank’s addition has been ongoing and she has been sourcing materials and equipment as much as possible since last summer.

Sandy Swett, operations manager for the Harrison Food Bank shows off new space to make food distribution for efficient and safe for volunteers. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

The expansion will turn the food bank into a 10,000 square foot facility. The addition has drive-up windows with casters so that volunteers can safely distribute food from inside and out of the elements.

There will be more space to store food and supplies, and more importantly, for volunteers to work in a safer environment moving boxes and using pallet jacks.

The building needs to be completely rewired, not only to accommodate the addition but to replace old, iffy wiring. Swett said it has been mostly labor that has been on hold, waiting for the grant funds. A new heating system will be installed as well.

The second floor of the building is being renovated for meeting space. The organization will hold events like educational workshops and will open it to the community for public and private functions.


The parking area needs to be torn out and replaced. Swett said that in the past the lot was used by the Maine Department of Transportation to dump fill from road ditches.

“That’s what the driveway was built from and it’s unstable,” Swett said. “We have to dig down and haul it all out and rebuild with new gravel. The quote just for gravel is $117,000, a third of the grant. And the cost of asphalt has gone up $11 per ton, so far this year.”

Cardboard chutes used to be how volunteers at the Harrison Food Bank ferried boxes of food out to cars waiting in the parking lot. A new expansion will eliminate many inefficient systems like this. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

The expansion should be done by the first quarter of 2023. Given supply chain and labor shortages, Swett is not banking on a hard completion date.

There are other urgent issues that the grant will not cover, however. In order to open the second floor space for meetings and events the building will need to have a complete sprinkler system installed. That will be paid for with a Community Development Block  Grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Just recently, an underground spring has opened beneath the building foundation, causing water to seep through the concrete and affect food storage space.

Last Friday a construction crew was digging outside in an effort to redirect the spring away from the building.


“Every time they come up against rocks, what I hear is ‘ka-ching ka-ching,'” Swett remarked. “We have no idea how much that will cost.”

Swett said that the food bank continues to support at least 500 families each Tuesday, distributing food to vehicles rolling through the parking lot from noon until 6 p.m. Many of the vehicles are driven by volunteers from churches and other organizations like the Rotary, transporting food for multiple families who live more than an hour away.

“Our numbers are back up and I knew this was coming,” Swett said. “And we’re going to see even harder times with the wheat and corn [from Ukraine]. Everything is going to be more expensive. There are going to be food shortages. Animal grains? They’re not even thinking about that and it’s already affecting meat supplies. The fertilizer comes from over there, that huge place in Texas that made fertilizer burned.

“So it’s grain and corn, wheat that is in everything, fertilizer, and now in Maine it’s potatoes. It’s huge, if I need it, I’d call them [McCrum in Belfast] and they throw together a pallet of potatoes for me. It’s a big deal that people don’t understand.

A new loading dock that accommodates two box trucks has been added to the Harrison Food Bank. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

The food bank’s two box trucks are on the road almost every day, picking up food from 87 stores, Tyson Foods and other plants, produce from Good Shepherd Food Bank and whatever farms have for surplus product on any given day.

It also supplies food and supplies to smaller food pantries located along its routes through different communities.

“This has grown by leaps and bounds,” Swett said. “I just secured seafood donations right off the wharf. The fish is processed right at the wharf and they flash freeze it. I’m picking up 1,200 pounds on Monday. Whenever they [the broker] gets a glut of it, they will call. It’s all about networking.

“The success of this place, I attribute to my ability to network. I talk to everyone who will listen. If I talk to one person, they’ll talk to someone else and that’s how it gets done.”


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