Mary McVey, director of Bethel Area Food Pantry, sorts food two days before their clients arrive. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — Bethel Area Food Pantry Executive Director Dave Bean says the pantry normally budgets $10,000. for food, but this year will spend around $20,000. The reasons, “More people and more expensive protein,” says Bean.

Bean works closely Mary McVey, the director and Chris Sheridan, volunteer coordinator. A bevy of volunteers, about 25 regulars, help as well.

People in the community donate in likely and unlikely ways. Once a man walked into the food pantry with $40 he’d just found on the street. A family made a donation in the name of their brother who had been a client before he died.

Some food comes from patrons who drop non-perishables in the donation box by the door at the Shop ‘n Save. The directors purchase food at cost there when they have a deficit. Farmers and gardeners have brought over extra produce. Anna Sysko had brought extra bagels from DiCocoa’s Cafe before it closed.

Telstar Freshman Academy students brought cereal from a cereal box drive they held and Crescent Park has done can drives, donating the proceeds.

This year, it will receive monetary help from Bethel Rotary and GraceNote Inn and Spa who together will host Thanksgiving Dinner in two seatings at the inn donating all of the proceeds to the food pantry. They welcome diners and volunteers.

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Sunday River has donated 50 turkeys  at Thanksgiving each year for the last six years. This year they’ll donate 80. The fixings for those turkeys will be donated by The River Fund. Once a week one of the three, McVey, Bean or Sheridan, go to Walmart in Oxford to pick up food products that the store can no longer sell.

The food pantry is open the first and third Wednesday of every month from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. At 6:45 a.m. on those days, volunteers come to empty the semi truck that arrives with food from Good Shepherd in Lewiston, where food is donated by Hannaford and other supermarkets.

At 8 a.m. the shifts start and volunteers separate the perishable food into categories, like proteins and vegetables. Clients begin lining up in their cars at 8 a.m.  Shopping carts with miscellaneous items that are donated separately and in smaller quantities are offered, too.

A few days before it’s open, McVey and Sheridan build 80 non-perishable “boxes.”   Eighty families come on the first Wednesday of the month; the second Wednesday is typically fewer people, but they always plan for 80, so as not to be shorthanded. “We work well together,” says McVey of Sheridan.

Twelve years ago, McVey and her husband moved to Bethel to a house they had owned since 1978. “Eight years ago I started building boxes with my church. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and when I came out of that I thought I need to do something for the community. I need to be busy doing something for someone else, and not just focusing on me … God put me here for a reason and I’m still here for a reason … the food pantry is my thing. It’s turned into a part-time job and that’s a good thing”.

“We have people come from Upton to Lovell to West Paris. In the last year, we’ve had people come from Rumford and South Paris [where there are other pantries], we made a decision that anyone who comes to the pantry, can get food.

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When they drive in I know who they are and they appreciate that more than anything else … I love seeing them. I know their names. They ask me how I’m doing. It’s become more personal.” said McVey of her vocation as director.

“We don’t ask for an i.d. We’ve had people come who were camping or maybe they are homeless. I don’t ask. They may be living out of their vehicle. This summer we had several.”

“We have families who have no vehicle,” McVey said. Or sometimes they’ll get a call from a family that needs an emergency delivery. “They’ve run out of food stamps and need food,” says McVey.  For the emergency calls, she or Sheridan or Bean will deliver the food or meet them at the food pantry.  Sheridan and another volunteer routinely deliver twice a month to 12 families or individuals who don’t have a car or otherwise can’t get to the food pantry.

The one-way street pattern at the Nazarene Church on Church Street where they rent space works well for them. However, there are a number of reasons why the church won’t work for them going forward including the church needing to make a title change. In the new year they will start an $800,000. capital campaign for a new combined Clothing Exchange and Food Pantry.  That the location could be the Ethel Bisbee school is ironic since that’s where they started in 1992. “It’s poetic, not ironic,” said Bean

The Bethel Rotary and GraceNote Inn & Spa Thanksgiving dinner seatings are at 2 and 6 p.m. Adults are $100. Children 12 and under are $40. To purchase tickets call the Inn at 207-530-4365 or go online at https://tinyurl.com/bde597vv contact Steve Smith ([email protected]) to volunteer.

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