On Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, AIO Food and Energy Assistance will host its first "Fill the Strand" food and funds drive to benefit AIO’s Food Assistance, Energy Assistance and Weekend Meal Programs.

In partnership with the Strand Theatre and Allen Insurance and Financial, this event challenges the community to fill every seat in the historic theater with bags of food and funds for AIO’s programs.

AIO was inspired by GatherNH, who held a successful "Fill the Hall" event in Portsmouth, N.H., at the Music Hall and provided guidance to AIO.

Coordinators would like to encourage community organizations, businesses and residents to do food and fund drives within their groups, workplaces and neighborhoods to help with the drive. Food and funds collected will go directly to AIO’s programs that support Knox County families.

Any individuals or groups interested in holding a food drive within their group is asked to contact one of the coordinators listed below for details.

Monetary donations are welcome — every dollar goes further since AIO can purchase food through partners at a competitive price. Individuals can sponsor a bag at $25, which will fill one seat in the theater. Those interested in sponsoring a bag through a financial donation can make it online at tinyurl.com/fillthestrand.

Non-perishable food with a current expiration date is appreciated, but no glass. AIO would be grateful for donations of the most needed items including ready rice pouches, macaroni and cheese and pasta; cereal and oatmeal; pop-top canned foods and Chef Boyardee meals; single serving lunch items; kid-friendly snacks; 100% juice boxes; shelf stable milk, powdered milk; snacks (granola bars, peanut butter crackers, six-pack raisins).

Whether a monetary gift or food donation, support will help people in the community who need it the most.

"The Strand, as an organization that serves as a community anchor and gathering place, is passionate about supporting the good works of other organizations throughout our community. We are therefore thrilled to partner with AIO in this creative effort to help make sure services are available to anyone with a need for food and heat, especially in these extra challenging times,” shares Executive Director of Friends of the Strand Theatre Jessie Davis.

Due to COVID-19, the majority of the food and funds collection will take place in the weeks leading up to Jan. 18.

Food collection sites have been established at area businesses, including Allen Insurance & Financial offices (Rockland and Camden), Main Street Markets (Rockland), and AIO Food and Energy Assistance (Rockland).

On Jan. 18, volunteers will be at the Strand Theatre between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to receive food and funds donations—curbside—to limit the number of people inside the Strand Theatre itself.

“We are thrilled to work with AIO and the Strand Theatre on this unique project.  Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors,” said Mike Pierce, president of Allen Insurance and Financial.

For more information about the event and how to participate, contact event coordinators Molly O’Rourke, weekendmeal@aiofoodpantry.org or Leila Murphy, leilamurph@yahoo.com. Event information can also be found at aiofoodpantry.org.