It takes a Friendly Village and 10,000 pounds of food: Harrison Food Bank

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    HARRISON — The new Harrison Food Bank has a motto volunteers wholeheartedly embrace: Nobody goes hungry.

    The Harrison Food Bank recently received its nonprofit status and operates out of the Harrison VFW at 176 Waterford Road (Route 35). There is a weekly food distribution for Harrison and Waterford residents from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

    “Our big saying is, ‘No one goes hungry.’ To this day we’re still behind that saying,” said volunteer Kevin Varney, who was a longtime volunteer at the now defunct Harrison Food Pantry, which sported the same motto. “If you don’t have a way to get there, call us. We will bring you the food.”

    Last week, the food bank served 79 people, giving away 1,679 pounds of food, according to volunteer Sandy Swett. Last month, volunteers helped 3,500 people and give away 10,000 pounds of food.

    “That’s a lot of food,” Swett said.

    This includes meat – and sometimes shrimp, Varney noted – fresh fruits and veggies, canned goods, dairy products, including eggs, cheese and milk, bakery goods, bread and pasta.

    “We get really good food. We get a good mix of really healthy, nutritious food,” Swett said. “People say how much help it is to get that extra. Everything is so expensive nowadays. They don’t have to cut out food. People cut other things when they don’t have money. It is such an important resource for Harrison and Waterford.”

    Food Bank volunteers will also bring food out to people’s vehicles if they cannot carry it themselves, she added.

    Senior project

    But before the Friendly Village’s newest nonprofit could open its doors to serve the people, a lot had to go into coordinating the endeavor.

    It originally started out as a senior project for Theresa Wilson who approached longtime Harrison Food Pantry volunteers Varney and Ray Thompson about her idea. The food pantry closed its doors last year after the church it was operating out of closed and was sold as a private residence.

    “She came to Ray Thompson and I because she was told she wasn’t old enough to get it going because of her age,” Varney said. “I said ‘What’s age got to do with it? If it’s something you want to do, I am behind you 100 percent, Ray is behind you 100 percent.’”

    Varney said they ran into some glitches, but everything worked out. Just before graduating from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and heading off to Bowdoin College, Theresa learned the Food Bank got the OK to open up.

    Varney and Thompson also nominated Theresa to be featured on Channel 6’s “Teens Who Care” segment for her work in developing the Food Bank.

    More help

    All the food bank needed now was a home and food, of course. Varney spoke with VFW Commander Cecil Barker, who agreed to let the new organization use the VFW space. Around the same time, an anonymous donor purchased two brand new refrigerators and freezers for the Food Bank.

    But then came the need for the nonprofit status and EIN number, or federal tax identification number. Enter Swett.

    She asked Varney what she could do since she enjoys helping people.

    “I said, ‘I was going to come talk to you,’ and I handed her a stack of paperwork,” Varney recalled, laughing.

    So Swett worked on the nonprofit status and also recruited more people to help.

    “I called the meeting [telling 10] key people in town that I wanted to see the promotion of the Food Bank. [I said,] ‘If we’re going to do this we need to do a good job. Who will support me in doing this?’” she said. “They unanimously said they would help.”

    Those people helped formed the board of directors and also volunteer at the Harrison Food Bank. There were eight of them there last week volunteering.

    And this doesn’t include all the people who used to volunteer at the former food pantry. Most of them are back on board, too.

    “It’s great having all the ones you had before because they all know their jobs,” Varney said. “What I love if somebody can’t make it, they say, ‘I am sick, I can’t make it tonight.’ It’s like wow, it’s a job to them.”

    This includes Bruce Stanton who, with his late mother Ruby, founded the former food pantry.

    “It kind of upset him a bit when they closed it down. I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it Bruce. It will come around, the doors will reopen somewhere else,’” Varney said.

    Little did he know he was going to be one of the ones to help do just that.

    “He’s back volunteering and everything else,” Varney said about Stanton. “I told him, ‘This is done in your mother’s memory.’”

    A village

    Varney and Swett acknowledged many of the volunteers and others who helped make the Harrison Food Bank possible.

    “They are a super dedicated group of volunteers. They are there every single week,” Swett said. It takes a community to make this successful.”

    “The name of the village actually stands right up,” Varney added, referring Harrison’s nickname of The Friendly Village.

    Cliff Roderick built shelving to store the food on and also has been hauling food from Portland and not charging for mileage.

    They gave kudos to Dan Morrison and Rachel Freeman at Wayside Food Programs in Portland where the food bank gets it food, along with Jason Hall from the Department of Agriculture.

    They also thanked the Harrison Post Office and United Parish Congregational Church of Harrison and North Bridgton for recently holding food drives for them.

    “It was a sizable amount of food items we were very thankful to get,” Swett said. “Any group that wants to collect food for us, give us a call. We’ll pick it up.”

    She noted since the nonprofit is a volunteer-run operation, they need continual donations to keep it afloat. A Harrison Food Bank account was opened up at Northeast Bank where donations can be made.

    “Just a small amount from everyone will make a difference for the resources we can provide to Harrison and Waterford,” Swett said.

    Harrison Food Bank volunteers also coordinate with similar organizations in Naples and Bridgton. If those in Naples have food that can’t wait another week, they will call over to Harrison to have it picked up. And Bridgton officials will also drop off extra food they have to the Harrison VFW.

    Expanding 

    In addition to the weekly fresh and canned food giveaway, once a month food commodities boxes are put together and given to Harrison and Waterford residents who are 60 and older, according to Swett and Varney. The items come from Wayside.

    Swett recently met a woman Deb Schmith, who is in the process of moving to Harrison. She currently runs a nanny service in Massachusetts, Swett said, and will donate extra baby items, including formula and diapers, to the Harrison Food Bank.

    Upcoming events

    On Wednesday, June 7, the Good Shepherd Food Bank truck will be at the Harrison VFW giving away food. The event will run from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and residents in other towns are encouraged to attend as well. This event is paid for through a grant from The Wescustogo Foundation in Yarmouth.

    They don’t have a dollar amount for the grant because when representatives from Good Shepherd arrive “all the food is weighed out and they give you a dollar amount,” Varney said.

    Swett also ordered 10 cases of light bulbs from Efficiency Maine to give away to those who show up on June 7.

    On Saturday, June 24, a food and pet food drive will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the Harrison Town Office parking lot at 20 Front St.

    “A lot of people have pets and feeding them is just as hard as feeding themselves,” Swett said.

    Varney said currently there are five people volunteers deliver food to because they cannot make it to the weekly food distribution. Varney and Swett noted they want to help as many people as they can.

    Any resident of Waterford or Harrison who needs to have their food delivered can make arrangements by calling Varney at 415-5811 or Swett at 647-3384.

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