As he and a crew of volunteers loaded boxes of produce and gallons of milk into the trunks of cars lined up at Bass Park in Bangor on Wednesday, Manna Ministries executive director Bill Rae said he was troubled by the changing demographics of the people requesting help in keeping food on their tables.
“It’s just different people than we’ve ever seen coming to us, asking for help,” Rae said. “It’s not the people I even saw last spring. These are people that were doing well before, but now the stimulus checks are gone, and we’re not getting any help out of Washington. We’re seeing people we’ve never seen before.”
Boxes of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program have been distributed all over the country over the past six months. The program has purchased over $4 billion worth of food from distributors to give out to people in need. In Maine, local partners have distributed food boxes on three separate dates in locations statewide, the last of which was held on Wednesday.
As was the case with the other two distribution events in Bangor, vehicles began lining up outside of Bass Park on Wednesday before the boxes began to be given out at 11 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., they were almost all gone.
In Belfast, a food box distribution event held at the Reny’s Plaza off Belmont Avenue last week attracted so many people that it caused a traffic jam, with police directing the more than 500 vehicles that were backed up nearly a quarter-mile down the road.
Jessica, a Bangor-based social worker who did not want to give her last name in order to protect her clients, picked up three boxes of food on Wednesday to give to families she works with who do not have access to transportation.
“This has always been a need, but I think there is definitely an increase in need because of the pandemic,” she said. “I’m trying really hard to not have an attitude that it’s going to get worse. I’m just trying to do the right thing, and take it one day at a time.”
In the previous two distribution events, volunteers from Manna, Community Health and Counseling Services in Bangor and from the Biker Church USA’s chapter in Bangor, gave out 1,100 boxes of food and gallons of milk each time. Wednesday’s event, the last of the food giveaways, was the biggest week yet with 2,200 boxes given out — double the number of food boxes given out in the previous two events, Rae said.
“What concerns me is not that we have the food, but that that many people in the community really need it,” Rae said. “The food is a blessing. It will get them through another week. What we do next week, I don’t know.”
Jill Hoelzer, who works for Community Health and Counseling in Bangor, said she hears about a lot of worry and uncertainty from her clients — both in terms of how they’ll continue to pay their bills and keep their families fed, and what the winter looks like — as Maine sees some worrying spikes in the numbers of COVID-19 cases detected.
“I think everybody’s a little scared, and they’re worried about what’s going to happen this winter,” Hoelzer said. “We’ve really been trying to educate the folks we work with about wearing their masks and being safe.”