January 16, 2015
Dear Friends of Tree of Life ,
Here is our State of the Tree report for 2014. It has been twenty-six years since a group of concerned Blue Hill residents met in the basement of the Congregational Church parsonage to distribute spare food and clothing to Peninsula families in need. From that humble but inspired beginning, Tree of Life has grown into a dynamic service organization that is managed and operated by over 130 volunteers, serving primarily the residents of Blue Hill, Brooksville, Brooklin, Castine, Orland, Penobscot, Sedgwick, and Surry and touching the lives of thousands of people.
It is ironic that in a country so prosperous and productive as ours, there is such a high level of food insecurity. On the Blue Hill peninsula, which is seen by many people as a wealthy coastal community, the number of people receiving food assistance mirrors the statewide and national food insecurity averages of about 14%.
We surveyed food recipients in June and discovered:
- 70% Someone in household skipped a meal or cut the size of meal due to lack of money to buy food
- 80% Sometimes had to choose between spending money on food or other needs
- 88% Always or sometimes worry that food will run out before having money to buy more
- 212 Families (on average) came to the Pantry every week for food assistance
- 10,904 Total family visits
- 6,000 Pounds of food distributed every week
- 300,000 Pounds of food distributed for the year
- 331,980 Meals provided with this food (estimate)
Our Food: We continued to expand our offerings of the healthiest food possible, given our budgetary restrictions. Through two grant funded programs we were able to contract with four area farms to grow over 3,500 pounds of organic produce for distribution. We also received, on a regular basis, donated vegetables, eggs and meat from local farmers and back yard gardeners, and thousands of pounds of free produce from our main supplier, Good Shepherd Food Bank.
In addition, every week, we also provided fresh milk and eggs, frozen meat or fish, flour, oats, dried beans, bread, tuna, peanut butter, healthy soups, and case upon case of other canned and dry goods. We provided recipes using Pantry found ingredients, and to encourage vegetable growing, we distributed over 800 seed packets donated by Maine seed companies and 60 trays of seedlings, given by local gardeners.
Our Little Miracle: The Food Pantry side of Tree of Life would not be able to address the need for food in such an encompassing manner were it not for the existence of its sister operation, the Turn-Style Thrift Store. In 2014, roughly fifty-eight per cent of Tree of Life funding came from the sale of high quality used clothing in our little shop, our little miracle, which is open three days per week. We rely on clothing donations, which arrive in our drop box by the bagful daily. We depend on our sorters/inspectors/menders, who prepare clothes for sale six days/week and the cashiers and floor staff who create such a pleasant store environment. And we are grateful for our customers, and multi-generational families of shoppers, who continue to spend their dollars, which enable us to turn clothing into food.
- $167,255 Generated through sales at the Turn-Style
- $122,646 Raised through grants and donations
- 800+ People, organizations, and businesses donated
Along with the Turn-Style, generous and unwavering community support enables us to distribute such a large quantity and variety of food, maintain our facility, and reach out to the community in a variety of ways, including:
- April: We hosted a Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce After Hours for Chamber members.
- May: With Healthy Acadia, we organized a fund raising dinner that raised almost $5,000.
- Summer: We contributed food and funds to the Magic Food Bus, which took fresh vegetables and canned goods to central meeting points and underserved neighborhoods in Blue Hill and Sedgwick. November: We distributed 432 turkeys and food for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
- Services: Throughout the year we hosted many social services, groups, and individuals, offering programs designed to help people better help themselves, including how to apply for SNAP (food stamp) benefits and health insurance. We also offered health screenings, cooking demos, in-store healthy shopping classes, energy efficient light bulb distribution, and vegetable gleaning opportunities.
- Our Films: Over the past two years, we have distributed over 600 copies of our DVD, which contains the two films produced at Tree of Life. In These Times is a short profile and awareness raising film and the longer Turning Clothing into Food describes how Tree of Life operates, from the moment a bag of donated clothing is placed in the drop off box at the Turn-Style until a family leaves with a box of food at the Pantry.
- The DVD has been sent to donors, other food pantries, libraries, schools, and interested individuals. It has been given to people who aspire to start pantries based on the Tree of Life model in their own communities and has been shown in area theaters and on Maine Public television. In these Times is currently touring the state as a juried selection of the 2014 Maine Short Film Festival. If you do not have a DVD and would like a free copy, just stop by the Turn-Style or Pantry to pick one up or make a request through our new website, and we will mail one to you.
- Modern Media: Speaking of our website, treeoflifepantry.org contains detailed information about Tree of Life, including history, recent press, our films, recipes, volunteer opportunities, Turn-Style information, and an easy way to make a financial donation through our PayPal page. Our new facebook page has permitted us to provide up to date information about the Pantry, the Turn-Style, and related issues and begin to develop an online community of friends and supporters.
- Accolades: In 2013, Tree of Life was named Non Profit of the Year by the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and in 2014 we received the Leadership in Action Award presented by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Hancock County.
Going Forward: In February, I will be leaving the Board of Directors, having completed two terms. The new board President will be Judi Hilliker. Under Judi’s leadership, the Board, comprised of ten dedicated and energetic local residents, will ensure that Tree of Life continues to make a positive (and nourishing!) impact on the residents and communities of the Blue Hill peninsula and beyond.
We appreciate your interest and offer our best wishes for a healthy New Year.