OXFORD — Helping Hands Food Pantry will hold its twice-monthly distribution at Polly’s Variety at 115 King St., starting May 4.

Store owner Lisa Annance is providing operations and drive-through space at the former ice cream shop next door. Food pickups are held the first and third Thursday of each month, between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Oxford Helping Hands Food Pantry has new advocates in Lisa Annance (left), who is providing an operations building at Polly’s Variety at 115 King St., and retired Oxford Police Chief Mike Ward, who became the pantry’s board president last November. The organization welcomes anyone able to volunteer on behalf of the Oxford Hills community. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

The board of directors for Helping Hands spent more than a year searching for new headquarters when its original location, Oxford’s old town office on Pleasant Street, was listed for sale back in July 2022.

Several options offered by town officials were ultimately deemed unsuitable: the 1830 Center Meeting House on Main Street and the Kay House Museum barn on Pleasant Street did not have adequate plumbing, facilities or heating.

The town then offered space at the Station House Community Center on King Street, but the area available was not insulated and could not support the electricity required to power the pantry’s freezers and refrigerators. The cost to upgrade the rec center’s electrical system proved too expensive for both parties.

Last December, after the town moved its municipal offices across town to 133 Pottle Road, Helping Hands vacated the building and set up shop at Oxford’s Congregational Church UCC on King Street.


Mike Ward, Oxford’s former police chief, went to work for Annance following his retirement and was appointed board president of Helping Hands last November.

“When I heard the [food pantry] might have to disband, that’s when I decided I needed to get involved,” Ward said.

Among the immediate changes the nonprofit’s board made after parting ways with its previous landlord was removing the limit imposed on it to only serve residents of Oxford.

With no residency requirement, its client list quickly doubled from around 35 to more than 70, and now more than 100 vehicles are being served during distribution days.

The drive-through lot at the Congregational Church can only hold a handful of cars circling through at a time, making it difficult to safely load food into that many vehicles in a short time.

It was Ward and Annance’s involvement with the food pantry that led to the ice cream shop — with plenty of cooler and freezer space as well as a large parking area to direct traffic through — emerging as the perfect site.


Oxford Helping Hands Food Pantry will soon occupy the old ice cream shop at Polly’s Variety in Oxford as its permanent headquarters. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Like the Congregational Church, Polly’s Variety is hosting the food pantry rent-free, making it possible to put all of its funds toward fighting food insecurity.

“We estimate that over the 10-11 years we were at the town office, Helping Hands paid out $35,000 in rent and utilities,” Board Treasurer Linda Hooker said. “Now we use that money to purchase food.”

As board president, Ward is focused on procuring enough food to cover Helping Hands’ services. Every portion distributed includes meal supplements and staples like bread, eggs and dairy products.

“Food insecurity is a huge problem,” Ward said. “Many people have seen cuts to their SNAP benefits. We are here for anyone who needs help.”

Ward said Helping Hands spends between $2,000 and $4,000 a month on food. One benefit of Polly’s Variety being its benefactor is its established connection with local wholesalers and opportunities for bulk savings. The food pantry also accepts food and financial donations from area businesses and individuals.

But its major source of funding is through fundraising. Currently it is holding a gift-card basket raffle worth $200. Tickets are $10 each and a maximum of 1,000 tickets will be sold.

On September 21, the annual golf tournament Suzanne’s Golf for Food will take place at Poland Spring Resort. Last year, 89 players turned out to raise $12,600, which was split between Helping Hands and the Poland Food Bank.

Hooker said other fundraising projects are in the works and will be posted on the new Facebook page, Oxford Helping Hands Food Pantry (facebook.com/groups/753762246346521).

Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate money for Helping Hands Food Pantry — or buy raffle tickets — should contact Mike Ward at 207-890-5885 or Linda Hooker at 207-890-4215.

Comments are not available on this story.