Volunteers pack boxes at the Biddeford Food Pantry on Elm Street on Tuesday. The food pantry has raised enough money to purchase the building and will not have to close or move by the end of the year. Credit: Ed Pierce | Journal Tribune

Don Bisson believes divine intervention and an outpouring of generosity from the community helped pull off a miracle for the Biddeford Food Pantry just days before Christmas.

Somehow Bisson, president and manager of the Biddeford Food Pantry, and his team of volunteers have raised $55,000 since late August and will close on the purchase of the 2,240-square foot building at 162 Elm St. in Biddeford in the next few days.

Biddeford Food Pantry was established in 1981 as the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry and is the oldest food pantry in the state of Maine, but the nonprofit’s survival was threatened when the building’s owner asked for a steep increase in rent for the facility which the organization could not afford. He gave the food pantry until the end of the year to either buy the building for $250,000 or move.

Word of mouth and stories in the newspaper and on television brought attention to the food pantry’s plight and it led to a groundswell of support from the community, Bisson said.

“Raising $55,000 since August toward a down payment on the purchase of this building is nothing short of a miracle,” Bisson said. “I can’t even raise $2 on my own, so raising $55,000 is really unbelievable.”

He said that purchasing the building will actually help the food pantry to lower expenses and address long term issues for the facility, such as making badly needed roof repairs and repainting the structure.

“Reaching this was a combination of a lot of things,” Bisson said. “The landlord didn’t have to subdivide the property and sell us this building. And many in the community stepped up to help us by making donations.”

One such donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, read about the food pantry in a newspaper article and thought he could do something to help by making a substantial donation.

“It’s all a blessing,” Bisson said. “I never expected this to happen and I give the glory to God and all of the instruments of God.”

The building’s purchase also means the food pantry will continue to do charitable work well into the foreseeable future.

Per its humanitarian policy, the food pantry will not refuse to help anyone who visits the facility seeking assistance and has been at its current location for the past 12 years. Prior to that it was on Pierson Lane and before that was located on Bacon Street in Biddeford.

The food pantry is open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, and is staffed by a team of 38 volunteers from throughout the community.

Many local businesses such as Hannaford Supermarket, Walmart, Target and others donate perishable food items to the food pantry while numerous restaurants such as Dunkin Donuts, Biscuits & Co. and Reilly’s Bakery also contribute to the program. Most of the food it dispenses is purchased and then stored for distribution at the Elm Street site.

Bisson said food pantry 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, hotdogs, muffins and other items, a large grocery bag of pastries, juices, oils, condiments, marinades, two gallons of bottled water and a gallon of milk. The actual quantity of food given out is determined by the number of people that are being fed.

Biddeford Food Pantry volunteer Joan Beauchesne said when she first heard about the idea of buying the building, she was skeptical.

“I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen,” Beauchesne said. “I think the newspaper article and mailings we did sparked an interest in the public about the food pantry. It was a plea to the community for help and they came to our rescue.”

Volunteer Kristina Mason said she believes buying the building is a genuine miracle for the food pantry.

“We don’t have to move,” she said. “And Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution was very accommodating to us.”

Bisson said years from now when all is said and done, the Biddeford Food Pantry will still be here to continue its vital community mission.

“The legacy we’ll leave is that the food pantry will own the building and we will continue the mission to feed God’s hungry people and that’s the most important thing out of all of this.”

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