History of the Tree of Life Food Pantry 1987- 2012
The food pantry was founded in 1987 by the First Congregational Church mission board now called Outreach Board. Some of those most involved at the beginning were Mic Hineline, Brian Pulling, Ruby Elliott, John Sylvester, Barbara Garside, and Rob and Becky McCall. Its first home was the white-washed basement of the parsonage. Our first trip to Good Shepherd food bank was in Mic Hineline’s VW Rabbit. We returned with five banana boxes crammed in the back. The pantry moved to the church in 1989.
The next home of the pantry was Piper’s Garage across from the firehouse in 1990. The thrift shop was added the same year and it was decided to turn all the proceeds from the thrift shop over to the food pantry. Rob McCall gave it the name Tree of Life and designed a logo of an apple tree. Isabel Davis directed the pantry and Jan Marville the thrift shop which she named TurnStyle. The food was stored and distributed in the former garage office with the furnace on its last legs needing to be checked every morning all winter. George and Eddie Stover often made the run to Lewiston for food. The clothing was in the unheated garage space. There were still two cars in the garage which served as impromptu changing rooms. In 1991 the pantry served 175 families and the thrift shop took in $1638.00.
In 1992 Florence Dodge donated a piece of property on South Street for the new home of the Tree of Life. In 1993 with the help of attorney Ellen Best, Tree of Life became a private non-profit under 501[c]3. It formed a board initially chaired by Rob McCall. A capital campaign raised $30,000 to purchase a kit building from Maineframe in Sedgwick. In 1994 volunteers under Mike Allen of Brooklin completed the new Tree of Life Center next to the IGA.
However, when Rite-Aid came to town, the retailer wanted to be next to Tradewinds and asked the food pantry to move. That’s when Jan’s husband, Bob Marville, got involved. “I met with the developer and said if you want to be next to Tradewinds, we’ll move, but here’s the deal,” Bob said, referring to the condition that Rite-Aid build a bigger building for the pantry. “They said, ‘You’re asking for a lot,’” Bob recalled. “We said, ‘We like where we are.’” Rite-Aid relented and the Tree of Life got a bigger facility, which is on the opposite side of the pharmacy from Tradewinds. Yet another expansion occurred in 2006. Today, the pantry is serving more people than ever. Roberts said the pantry serves approximately 200 families a week. When she began keeping track of the numbers of people being helped, she had 300 names on her computer. That list has grown to over 900.