Friday, June 25, 2021

2021 Spirit of America Award humbles Raymond Food Pantry volunteer director

Impressed by Gary Bibeau's above and beyond
dedication to the Raymond Food Pantry as its 
volunteer director, Raymond's Deputy Fire
Chief and Health Officer, Cathy Gosselin, left,
nominated Bibeau for this year's 'Spirit of America'
Award. The Raymond Select Board approved the
nomination and here she presents the plaque to
Bibeau on June 10 at the Raymond Food Pantry
to honor and reward him for his exceptional 
volunteer efforts. PHOTO BY KAELA GONZALEZ  
By Lorraine Glowczak

For the past four years, the Town of Raymond has presented the Spirit of America Foundation Award to honor individuals in the community who have demonstrated a strong sense of civic responsibility and volunteerism. Gary Bibeau is this year’s award recipient, and he was presented a plaque on Thursday, June 10 by Raymond’s Deputy Fire Chief and Health Officer, Cathy Gosselin at the Raymond Food Pantry, where Bibeau is the volunteer director.

Bibeau, who refers to himself as ‘just a do-gooder doing his own thing,’ was quite surprised to have been nominated by Gosselin and fellow Raymond Lion Club members, Caryl Gilman and Laurie Wallace. The nomination was accepted and announced by the Raymond Select Board at their Tuesday, May 11 Zoom/online meeting. His reaction to the news was one of disbelief.

“Cathy asked me to attend the select board meeting and I thought I needed to prepare a report about the food pantry, but she told me not to worry about it,” Bibeau said. “It turns out that I [and the award announcement] was on the agenda. My jaw dropped. I was speechless.”

According to the Spirit of America Foundation’s website, the idea of awarding those who give their time freely began with the inaugural address of Maine Governor, John McKernan in January1987 when he said, “I will create within the Executive Department a program to promote volunteerism in Maine.” Within three years, the Spirit of America Foundation became a reality on Oct. 16, 1990. The foundation, located in Augusta, continues to promote and honor volunteerism in Maine to this day.

Gosselin, while working with Bibeau during the pandemic to establish grants for the food pantry, was impressed with Bibeau’s level of commitment and was determined that he receive recognition and honor for a job well done.

“I have been so impressed with Gary’s dedication and how much ‘above and beyond’ he works to make sure the pantry is a success. That is the reason why I decided to write the nomination letter and reached out to Caryl and Laurie for their input as they both agreed that he was deserving of the award.”

The Raymond Food Pantry, originally located in the basement of the Raymond Town Hall, was relocated in the early 2000s to the Lakes Region Baptist Church, 1273 Roosevelt Trail in Raymond where it continues to operate today. Wishing to assist and be a part of the volunteer efforts, Bibeau reached out to the Pastor of Lakes Region Baptist, Rev. Elmer Young, in 2015 to see if he could be of service.

“Pastor Young and his wife were directors of the food pantry at the time and needed all the help they could get and quickly accepted my assistance,” Bibeau said. “The pastor took me under his wings and off we went. I’ve been volunteering ever since.”

About two years ago, Pastor Young passed away. It was then that Bibeau unofficially took over Pastor Young’s role of the food pantry’s leadership, but he was officially offered the role of volunteer director in February 2021.

Bibeau’s work at the food pantry is recognized by his fellow Lion Club members, who assist him in the day-to-day operation.

“That place works like clockwork,” Lion Club member and food pantry volunteer, Gilman said. “Gary is very efficient in the way he manages the pantry – everything from food pick up at local grocery stores, the sorting of the product and the distribution to the customers. Most importantly, everyone is treated very fairly. Although this is a volunteer position, he works there full-time to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

In addition to the food pantry, Bibeau is a member of the Lions Club, the Oakledge Hills Road Association and volunteers his time to help the elderly with yard work and minor repair of their homes. He said that volunteering has always been a part of his life.

“There is a need out there,” Bibeau said. “There are those who are less fortunate and less capable, and someone needs to help them. I guess it is just in my nature to help.”

As for others who are looking to volunteer their time, the Raymond Food Pantry needs your assistance. “It’s tough right now. Currently, my only source of volunteers are members of the Raymond Lions Club. The problem is that most of us are in the upper age group, and we can’t be doing this forever.”

The Raymond Food Pantry is looking for volunteers who can make fresh food retrieval runs to local supermarkets on Saturday mornings (Hannaford in Windham beginning at 8 a.m.) and Wednesdays (Shaw’s in Windham beginning at 9 a.m.). For more information, contact Bibeau by phone at 207-635-4334.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said that small towns like Raymond depend upon volunteers and hopes that Bibeau will inspire others.

“The Raymond Food Pantry has always operated on a volunteer basis,” Willard said. “Gary has continued that tradition and has done so with remarkable effort. He is an extraordinarily giving person and without people like him, our community would certainly struggle to meet the ongoing needs of those facing food insecurity. In that regard, the food pantry is now looking for additional volunteers and we hope people will step up and help out.”

Bibeau, who spent 35 years in the semi-conductor industry has lived in Raymond since 1990. Originally from Connecticut, he and his young family moved here when Bibeau accepted a job in Maine.

“I chose to make Raymond my home for its rural atmosphere and the fact that Jordan-Small Middle School was rated with high marks – a school of excellence at that time. I believed it would be the best place to raise my family – and I was right.”

When asked what he does in his spare time, Bibeau, who retired in 2012 responded.

“I mow my yard, then I mow my neighbor’s yard – I guess I don’t do a lot of spare time. I’m always busy.”

Bibeau seems to lead an eventful and happy life, ‘just being a do-gooder, doing his own thing’ with his wife, Rhonda by his side. <

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