Chris Mayberry, a volunteer for Biddeford Food Pantry, carries bottled water to a storage area at the facility in Biddeford on Wednesday. Credit: Ed Pierce | Journal Tribune

One of the most widely respected community programs in the state that assists more than 600 families in the Biddeford area in overcoming food insecurity every month finds itself in dire need of a helping hand in order to continue its valuable charitable work.

Biddeford Food Pantry at 162 Elm St. in Biddeford was established in 1981 and is the oldest food pantry in Maine but will be without a building in which to operate by early November.

“We have been told by our landlord that our rent is increasing from $790 to $2,200 per month,” Donald R. Bisson, president and manager of Biddeford Food Pantry, said.

As a nonprofit service staffed entirely by volunteers, Bisson said the food pantry simply cannot afford the rent increase and is actively trying to relocate to a different location in Biddeford.

“We need a facility that will allow us to function as a full-service food pantry,” Bisson said. “Our current facility is 2,240-square-feet of space, and we need a comparable first-floor space that would be amenable to our operation. We are reaching out to the surrounding downtown area for a possible new location within our budget.”

Volunteer Katherine Theodore of Saco said losing the food pantry would be a significant blow to so many in the community, including young and old, and those genuinely in need of help and struggling to put food on the table.

“Maine ranks 47th out of 50 states in terms of hungry residents,” Theodore said. “This food pantry goes a long way in helping people feed their families. These aren’t just people out of work, they are people working full-time jobs, but just not making enough money to make ends meet.”

Gerry Boutin, a volunteer driver for the food pantry, said more than 200,000 pounds of food is distributed through the Biddeford Food Pantry to the community every year.

“I’m concerned about how much it will cost to move this operation,” Boutin said. “We will have to disassemble a lot of coolers, equipment and steel shelving and then set it up in a new location. It’s going to be quite expensive to move, but we have no choice.”

Bisson said Biddeford Food Pantry, once known as the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry, will not refuse to help anyone who visits seeking assistance and has been at its current location for the past 12 years. Before that it was on Pierson Lane, and before that was on Bacon Street in the city.

Open from 7 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, the facility is staffed by a team of 38 volunteers from all walks of life and professions.

Chris Mayberry said he volunteers at Biddeford Food Pantry because it gives him an opportunity to give back to his community.

“I’m helping people through volunteering by making sure people are fed,” Mayberry said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The value to the community of the food pantry is apparent to many local business, who donate food to the nonprofit.

Hannaford Supermarket, Walmart, Target and others donate perishable food items to the food pantry while and a host of other local businesses such as Dunkin Donuts, Reilly’s Bakery and many others also contribute to the program. Most food is purchased and then stored for distribution at the site.

The food pantry has several massive coolers for perishables, which were obtained through a $26,500 grant a few years ago. Hannaford donated a van to the nonprofit and Maine author Stephen King purchased a box truck to transport food to Biddeford about 10 years ago.

Program participants often receive three weeks of food monthly including a large grocery bag of non-perishable items such as canned soups, canned veggies, canned fruits, pasta sauce, rice, and beans, a large banana box containing assorted breads, frozen meats, yogurts, potatoes, oatmeal, juices, hot dogs, muffins and other items, a large grocery bag of pastries, juices, oils, condiments, marinades, 2 gallons of bottled water and 1 gallon of milk. The actual quantity of food given out is determined by the number of people that are being fed.

Bisson said despite the turn of events, he’s hoping the community will rally behind Biddeford Food Pantry and help it to survive.

“We’re praying for help and for someone to come to our rescue,” he said. “This organization is such an asset to the Biddeford community, and we do so much for so many. We’re hoping someone can help us find a new building and allow us to continue helping others.”

Anyone with a facility that might be available and financially affordable to the food pantry is asked to call Bisson at 282-4771.