A woman puts a potato into a garbage bag during a free giveaway of potatoes at Hemphill Farms in Presque Isle on Thursday morning. Credit: David Marino Jr.

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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Hemphill Farms in Presque Isle gave away more than 20,000 pounds of potatoes Thursday to people across the area.

The extra large Russet Burbank potatoes, averaging a pound each, would have been sold to the foodservice industry for products such as french fries, but the farm lost its market because of changes in the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Garrett Hemphill, co-owner of the farm.

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The temporary shutdown of restaurants and cafeterias across the country has halted production of the large bags of french fries those businesses sell to consumers nationwide. It has also hurt farms like Hemphill who sell to processors.

Hemphill said the farm wanted to give back to a community struggling, like many others, due to business closures meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s great seeing people here,” Hemphill said. “There have been cars lined up all morning.”

Dozens of people drove up to the farm, bagging pounds upon pounds of spuds. Many used bags of some sort, including trash bags and assorted carry bags. Others were more creative — one woman even used an empty cat litter bucket.

Most said they had heard about the event from a Facebook post on Wednesday advertising “FREE potatoes!” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the next day.

Craig Cyr of Washburn said he would use the potatoes to make french fries at home.

“It’s pretty cool that they are giving back to the community,” Cyr said. “Everybody’s trying to help each other out a little bit right now. It’s pretty neat.”

Guy and Cindy Weaver of Westfield said they were going to take potatoes for themselves, but also take some for their neighbors, many of whom are struggling economically because of the pandemic shutdowns.

“Almost everybody around us is unemployed right now,” Guy Weaver said.

Cindy Weaver said the farm had shown its generosity during a difficult time with the giveaway.

“These are 99 cents a pound at the grocery store,” Cindy Weaver said. “So, that’s a big deal.”

Food giveaways have become increasingly prevalent in Maine and the wider United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many struggle with unemployment and furloughs. Earlier this month, the Pineland Farms Potato Company organized food giveaways across The County.

Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen

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