The staff and volunteers of the Tree of Life Food Pantry are relentless in their search for nutritious and high quality food. With the growing need on the peninsula for food assistance each week poses new challenges for providing quantity and quality of choices for the pantry shelves. Like most food pantries canned goods, dried beans, pasta, cereal and juices are always in stock. While some food is donated, the bulk of the food is purchased using proceeds from the thrift shop and cash donations.
Every week Tree of Life Food Pantry distributes over 6,000 pounds of food, the majority of which is either purchased or received free of charge from Good Shepherd Food Bank. In addition, food is purchased from wholesaler Dennis Paper (Bangor), and a variety of retailers including Tradewinds and Merrill & Hinkley (Blue Hill), Save-A-Lot (Brewer), and Mardens and Renys (Ellsworth).
Every week in the summer and into the fall, local farmers and back yard gardeners bring excess produce to the Pantry. To handle the bounty, a produce tent is set up in the parking lot on distribution day. In 2014, through Good Shepherd’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program we purchased hundreds of pounds of frozen Maine fish in addition to about $6,000 of local organic produce. The Maine Farmland Trust grant enabled the purchase of an additional $2,500 (about 3,500 pounds) of produce. All of this produce was grown for the Pantry by four area farms: King Hill (Penobscot), Horsepower (Penobscot), Blue Zee (Penobscot), and North Branch (Monroe). Misty Morning Farm (Blue Hill) began delivering greenhouse greens, and The Blue Hill Co-op donated about $50 of produce every week. C&G Growers (Penobscot) and Four Season Farm (Brooksville) were regular donors as well. Grant funded, Good Shepherd, and Co-op produce are continuing into the winter and we are distributing 2-3,000 pounds every week.
Over the summer we began offering fresh milk from Garelick and we now distribute 192 quarts every week. We distribute about 210 dozen eggs every week, including about 20 dozen local eggs donated by Misty Morning Farm. We’re also distributing over 300 pounds each of bananas and apples and large quantities of dried beans and rice. The transition to healthy, affordable food is well underway, with the added benefit of our spending less money (-5%) to help feed more people (+5%) in 2014.
For the second year, we offered seeds and seedlings. Over 800 seed packets, donated by Fedco, Johnnys, and ME Cooperative Extension were distributed, as well as 50+ trays of seedlings from Peddlers Wagon (Blue Hill) and Sweet Dog Farm (Brooksville).
Every November, in preparation for Thanksgiving, a peninsula-wide food drive, organized by schools, businesses, hospital, library, and individuals, brings thousands of pounds of food to the Pantry. In March, a county-wide food drive, organized by the Hancock County Cooperative extension, is held for the benefit of the twelve food pantries of Hancock County. The Pantry also receives free food from a USDA sponsored program several times per year. Twice yearly the post offices of the eight towns of the Blue Hill peninsula collect food for the Pantry. And every week throughout the year, individuals stop by the Pantry to drop off food.