SACO — Around the holidays late last year, shoppers at Shaw’s in Saco could opt to add a donation to the Saco Food Pantry as they proceeded through the checkout line with their groceries. The program is called Nourishing Neighbors.
Customers were generous, so generous in fact, that they contributed $6,700, which was given to the pantry last week.
Food pantry Director John White said the gift came in the form of 268, $25 gift cards, which will be handed out to clients, one per family, in the coming weeks.
The thoughtfulness of shoppers at the holiday season has come at a good time. In March, the Saco Food Pantry provided more than 11,000 meals to 231 families comprised of 612 individuals.
“This marks the third month with a 10 percent or higher increase in the number of families receiving food,” wrote the pantry’s corresponding secretary, John Reynolds, in a thank you letter to Shaw’s.
Increases in the number of people visiting food pantries are happening elsewhere in York County and across Maine. In Alfred, the food pantry operated by York County Shelter Programs is feeding about 4,500 people a month, nearly double pre-pandemic levels, according to an April 5 Portland Press Herald story by Gillian Graham.
In that story, Graham reported inflation data released in March showed the gasoline index rose more than 6 percent in February. Food costs climbed 1.4 percent in March, the most in two years, and energy costs spiked 3.7 percent, the biggest increase since October.
Inside the Saco Food Pantry on a recent weekday, an army of volunteers was readying the place, filling freezers, stocking shelves, making sure all was for 9 a.m., when the second wave of volunteers was to arrive, to serve clients from Saco, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach — “anyone in the area” said White, who has volunteered at the pantry for the past dozen years.
For the past two years, White said, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant clients come to the door and volunteers shop for them. In all, he said about 60 volunteers help at the Saco Food Pantry, which is open 9 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. Clients are welcome to visit the pantry once a month.
Shaw’s Saco manager Bryan Goodrich said Nourishing Neighbors is a promotion the store does several times a year.
“It certainly helps the food bank and families,” he said of the recent donation to Saco Food Pantry.
“It’s wonderful for our clients,” said Saco Food Pantry board member Toni Clark.