Demand prompts food pantry to seek larger quarters

By Stephen Betts | May 21, 2017
Photo by: Stephen Betts The AIO food pantry in Rockland.

Rockland — Sharply higher demand has led Area Interfaith Outreach to seek larger quarters to meet the needs of Knox County residents in need of food.

The AIO Board of Directors voted last month to launch a fundraising campaign to buy a larger building for its food pantry.

Sherry Cobb, president of the AIO Board, said Sunday, May 21, the increase in the number of people coming in for assistance is a troubling sign of growing food insecurity.

Last year, AIO served nearly 13,000 people. In addition, 310 children were served through the backpack program that sends food home with students on the weekends.

Four years ago, Cobb said, an average day saw about 25 people come into the food pantry located in an 1,800-square-foot building at the intersection of Thomaston Street and Broadway in Rockland.

Each of the past two years has seen an increase of 30 percent inthe number of people needing food from the pantry.

"This past winter -- 2016-17 -- people driving by around 9:30 on the three mornings we’re open often have seen a line across the parking lot to the street and cars lining both roads," Cobb said in a news release.

Some people are in line by 8:30 a.m. -- an hour before the pantry opens.

The current building at 70 Thomaston St., which AIO bought in 2006, is paid for, but is too small and can't be expanded, she said.

Volunteers accompany each client around the shelves and freezers as they bag their selections. She said the pantry limits shoppers to five at a time because they’re bumping into each other.

"We often stay open past closing time to help all who have been waiting," she said in the news release.

Another problem is storing filled grocery bags and boxes while people finish shopping. The bags are left in whatever floor space looks to be out of the traffic, but people trip over them.

The front desk intake area where clients explain why they have come offers no privacy. The same is true of the voucher desk, Cobb said. In the back room, which was added shortly after AIO bought the original building, work space has become cramped for the volunteers sorting and culling produce, packaging eggs, or re-packaging flour, coffee, or sugar into ziplock bags.

AIO is looking for about 3,000-square-feet of space in Rockland. This would include a much larger waiting room and a separate check-in area, a larger shopping room, work room, and parking lot, and two small private offices for voucher request interviews and case management consultations.

"And how wonderful if it included a demonstration kitchen visible from the waiting room for teaching much-needed basic cooking skills," Cobb said.

She said, judging from the current political climate in Augusta and Washington, D.C., she expects the number of low-income, disabled, elderly and chronically ill people needing help will continue to grow.

She said the appeal for funds will go out this summer; about $200,000 will be needed.

"We are confident that our community will respond and help us meet the growing challenges. Meanwhile, we’re looking for a building. If anyone has suggestions, we can be reached at," she concluded.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 22, 2017 09:33

I believe this is still an all volunteer organization; one of very few; and is really an Area INTERFAITH Outreach.  Protestant, Catholic, Unitarians, Jewish all working together to meet a common need. If your faith congregation is not participating you might want to ask  why not.

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