Friday, July 22, 2022

Food pantries playing larger role as local economy tightens

Rising inflation and soaring gasoline prices have resulted in
an increasing number of individuals and families seeking
help from the Raymond Food Pantry and the Windham Food
Pantry. The need is compounded by RSU 14 not being able
to provide a summer lunch program this year. Food pantry
donations are being welcomed and more volunteers are 
sought to staff the facilities. COURTESY PHOTO  
By Andrew Wing

Over the last few years, there is no denying that we as a country have faced some incredible economic challenges. And in 2022, we are faced with another hardship, catapulted inflation resulting from soaring gas and food prices that are unlike anything our country has seen in decades. Many families in the towns of Windham and Raymond are experiencing trouble just putting food on the table for their children.

For the past couple of years, the RSU 14 Summer Food Service Program has been an outlet for many parents in alleviating some of the hunger children face because they did not have enough food when school was out for the school year. This was a great program that made a huge difference in our community, but unfortunately this summer there has been no RSU 14 Summer Food Service program.

According to Jeanne Reilly, RSU 14 Director of School Nutrition, there are a lot of reasons for this ranging from COVID-19 waivers that were set to expire to not having enough time to put a plan in place for summer meals, but she said a key reason was one that almost every business has been experiencing as of late, and that was not having enough staff to operate a summer meals program.

Despite not having the RSU 14 Summer Food Service program, Reilly said she is hopeful that the program will be back next year to deliver food to the hungry children in need in Windham and Raymond.

There are still a number of resources available to area families in need, the biggest one being town food pantries in both Windham and Raymond.

The Windham Food Pantry’s hours of operation are by appointment from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, while Raymond’s Food Pantry is open from 4 to 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.

As for donations to the pantries, this year has already been an incredible year following the “Feed the Need” initiative which raised more than $25,000 for distribution to the 11 food pantries in eight Lakes Region towns including Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Sebago, Standish, Raymond and Windham.

One of the big players in the “Feed the Need” initiative is Robin Mullins, the Executive Director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Mullins has served as the chamber’s executive director for over two years now, and she works closely with our town’s food pantries.

She said that she believes that this summer’s rampant inflation and high gas prices are making the need for food larger than in past years.

"Starting with the pandemic, the need for food has been there,” said Mullins. “But now with inflation and high gas prices, I believe the need is greater than ever.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices across America are now 10 percent higher than in 2021 and that rapid increase is driving many who are food-insecure to visit food banks for help.

Another person who has witnessed a growing rise in food insecurity first-hand is Gary Bibeau of the Raymond Food Pantry.

Bibeau, the volunteer director of the Raymond Food Pantry, was honored with the 2021 Spirit of America award for his above-and- beyond dedication to the food pantry.He has been in charge of the facility since February 2021 and he says he’s has definitely noticed an uptick in the need for food this year because of rising inflation and higher gasoline prices.

“Yes, the rising inflation and soaring gas prices have had an impact,” said Bibeau. “I see more and more new people coming into the food pantry by the day.”

Bibeau suggests that any families in need of food for themselves and their children should simply come to the Raymond Food Pantry to get food provided they are Raymond residents and meet the state’s income levels.

He said that the biggest necessity at the food pantry currently is the need for additional volunteers to help, so if you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, do not hesitate to reach out and call the Raymond Food Pantry at 207-655-4334.

The Windham Food Pantry, managed by Collette Gagnon, is also eager to receive more donations and volunteers, so if you interested in either, call them at 207-892-1931. <

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