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Local organizations feed Aroostook County folks in need

Throughout the year, food pantries and similar organizations in Aroostook County make it their mission to feed those on a fixed income who might go hungry otherwise, particularly as heating fuel prices rise during the winter months.

Despite temperatures in the 20s and the winter storm heading northward on Thursday, Dixie Shaw, director of Catholic Charities in Aroostook County, and two delivery drivers parked in front of the Presque Isle Courthouse to distribute 209 30-pound packages of food to people from the area. Every month, rain or shine, Catholic Charities distributes the food packages to locations in Fort Kent, Van Buren, Caribou, Presque Isle, Mars Hill and Houlton to assist the Aroostook Agency on Aging’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Dixie Shaw, director of Catholic Charities in Aroostook County, talks to a recipient of a food package from the Aroostook Agency on Aging’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program during a monthly food distribution stop in Presque Isle on Jan. 4. Every month Catholic Charities distributes CSFP food packages to over 1,000 people in need throughout Aroostook County. (Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

According to the Aroostook Agency on Aging’s website, the program provides 30 pounds of commodity food items to senior citizens aged 60 and older whose income is below $1,307 per month if they live alone or below $1,760 per month for two people.  

Once a month at designated locations in the six towns, the agency supplies the food packages, which consist of dry pasta, cheese, cereal, canned meats and vegetables, to eligible partipants. Though there is currently a waiting list for the federal CSFP program, people interested in applying can still find more information at http://www.aroostookaging.org/nutrition-and-food-assistance.html.  

If individuals cannot pick up their food package at the advertised time, they can have a family member or friend do so for them or come to another location later in the day where the food will be stored.  On Jan. 4, the Presque Isle location for after-hours pick-ups was the Sargent Family Community Center.  For more information on the CSFP distribution locations and times for 2018, contact Dottie Sines at (207) 764-6185 or 1-800-439-1789 or email dsines@aroostookaging.org.

“We distribute food for Aroostook Agency on Aging’s CSFP in addition to what we already do as Catholic Charities,” Shaw said, in between food pick-ups on Thursday. “Today we came early because of the storm and hope to leave as early as possible to get to Houlton.”

Catholic Charities is the only food bank north of Bangor and supplies food to 24 pantries all over Aroostook County, from Danforth to St. Francis to Fort Fairfield and Ashland and numerous communities in between. The organization also serves as the distribution agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program and operates Farm For ME, a six-acre farm that grows fresh vegetables for distribution to Catholic Charities’ food pantries in the County and statewide through a partnership with the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

On Jan. 4, Catholic Charities distributed CSFP food packages to over 1,000 people in the six locations. In addition to the regular packages, Shaw gave each person three cans of tuna salad to make sandwiches in the event of power outages during the winter storm.

Donations that Martha and Mary’s Soup Kitchen receives regularly include bread and fruit from Graves Shop ‘n Save in Presque Isle. Cindy Patten, director of the soup kitchen, recently told The Star-Herald that donations such as hamburger and vegetables are most needed in order to serve meals such as chop suey, spaghetti and shepherd’s pie to over 100 people daily on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. (Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

“The tuna salad is extra food that we had at Catholic Charities.  Every month we try to include something extra in the packages to give to people,” Shaw said.

In Presque Isle, cars often formed small lines throughout the hour-and-a-half period that Shaw was there in order to pick up food before the storm.  David and Martha Glass, of Mapleton, stopped by soon after noon and were happy to receive their package as well as the extra cans of tuna salad.

“Getting this food helps us save a lot of money on our budget every month,” David Glass said.

Across town on 21 Parson Street in Presque Isle, Cindy Patten, director of Martha and Mary’s Soup Kitchen, stays busy with her staff preparing over 100 meals daily on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  The soup kitchen opens at 2 p.m. and serves meals such as chop suey, spaghetti or shepherd’s pie from 3 to 5 p.m. to people who either want to eat at the kitchen or pick up a meal to bring home.  Although the kitchen accepts all food donations, Patten said that they most need hamburger and vegetables.

“It takes 20 pounds of hamburger to make chop suey and 24 small cans of vegetables for any meal.  If I had the bigger cans of vegetables I could probably use only three cans per meal,” Patten said.

Patten noted that Graves Shop ‘n Save in Presque Isle has been tremendously helpful in donating food such as bread, fruits and pastries on a regular basis.  In addition, Presque Isle employees at Big Cheese Pizza contribute all leftover pizzas that would otherwise go unused.

“I think a lot of times people have big parties or weddings or other get-togethers and they end up with leftovers that they don’t know what to do with.  And I think sometimes restaurants will throw away outdated food,” Patten said.  “If anyone has leftover meat or vegetables just sitting in the freezer we can use it, even if it’s outdated.”

Individuals who wish to donate to Martha and Mary’s can contact the soup kitchen at (207) 764-0758 on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday and ask to speak to Patten.  She mentioned that although the need for meals is crucial during the winter because of fuel costs and tighter budgets, the soup kitchen is open year round for anyone who is in need of a hot meal.

“Anyone can come here.  We don’t ask any questions about how much money people make,” Patten said.  “We serve hot meals to any who needs them.”

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