HARRISON — As the need to help people who are food insecure grows in Maine, so does the need for equipment to get the job done.

The Harrison Food Bank is struggling to fulfill requests for help in western Maine. The 2005 Chrysler Town and Country minivan used for deliveries is aging and limits the amount of meals that can be delivered at one time.

However, Operations Manager Sandy Swett has found the solution: a 2500 series commercial van with refrigeration. All she needs now is funding to make it a reality.

“We are being blown away by the need for deliveries,” Swett said Tuesday as volunteer drivers lined up for their vehicles to be loaded with food. “I am getting daily calls from case workers from all over.”

Swett estimates that she receives up to 20 phone calls and at least 50 emails daily, mostly with requests for food insecure patients and agency clients, and often because Harrison Food Bank is equipped to support special nutritional needs.

The Harrison Food Bank uses this 2005 minivan, seen Monday, for home delivery to Oxford Hills residents. With no air conditioning, wiring issues and broken-down suspension, it is unreliable and needs to be replaced. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

According to Secretary Karen Pettingill, when the food bank first opened six years ago, there were around 25 families on its home delivery list. It’s a number that continues to swell. Oxford Hills towns account for about half of the 211 families currently on HFB’s home delivery list.


Since last fall, Swett has dedicated the 2005 Chrysler Town and Country minivan to delivering food.

The minivan, donated by a summer camp, brings food to 28 families but cannot be loaded with boxes for more than 10 families at a time, meaning it is on the road nonstop on food distribution day.

The minivan required $4,000 of work to be made road worthy last winter, but now the suspension system is in trouble and the air conditioning has stopped working.

Debbie Stanford, left, stands Monday with Karen Pettingill, Harrison Food Bank’s secretary. Standford is the primary volunteer driver of the aging delivery van, braving the heat, rearranging boxes at every stop and bringing them to the door of 28 locations. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

It also has electronic malfunctions; sometimes the side doors just lock and cannot be opened, making it necessary for the delivery volunteer to climb through the back hatch to drag out the correct boxes at each stop.

Transportation Coordinator Michael Sink said that he rotates volunteer drivers on a schedule.

“I’ve been doing his since last year,” Sink explained. “Currently, we manage deliveries through three programs (to different communities). I will have 15 or so drivers each week, delivering.”


The food bank provides delivery service primarily to the towns encircling it — Fryeburg, Bridgton, Naples, Casco, Oxford, Norway, Paris and West Paris. But people as far as Rumford or Portland rely on it.

“We might be the only contact some people will have during a week. We do welfare checks and try to help them connect to other services they need. We will accommodate very personalized, specific dietary needs, and it’s being requested more and more,” Swett said.


Through the Cumberland County Agency on Aging, Swett has secured a $20,000 grant to help lease a van for food delivery. She has applied to Oxford County for similar help. Even though 50% of food bank clients reside in Oxford Hills communities, its location in a Cumberland county town makes it ineligible to receive Oxford county grants.

The $20,000 grant will go towards a down payment on the van, which has an $84,000 price tag. In order to secure an affordable payment for the four-year lease with purchase option, Swett said they need more money upfront, and quickly.

Volunteer driver and Transportation Coordinator Michael Sink loads his vehicle with food for home delivery Tuesday at the Harrison Food Bank. Sink said he schedules delivery routes for about 15 other drivers each week. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

“We are desperate for donations,” she said. “There are churches in Norway who know how much we do for the community and make monthly donations. There is a church all the way in North Yarmouth who regularly supports us. The town of Waterford appropriates us $500 a year toward operations. I think many towns don’t realize the need. Our recipients live in 63 different towns.”


“We’re feeding more than 700 families each week,” Pettingill added. “And I don’t see it getting better.”

Swett is launching a fundraising campaign this week for the new van, mailing request letters to the food bank’s entire donor list. She is putting links up on their social media accounts for people to donate online.

“Honestly, the best way to donate is through check,” Swett said. “PayPal, Venmo, they make it easy for people to help, but their fees take food off peoples’ tables and fuel out of our tanks. It is great when we get checks in the mail.”

The Harrison Food Bank is located at 176 Waterford Road in Harrison. Information can be found on its website https://www.harrisonfoodbank.com/, and its Facebook page is updated regularly. Donations may be mailed to PO Box 112, Harrison, ME 04040.

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