SABATTUS — For a ministry with a sole mission of aiding people in crisis in the Sabattus area, Loaves & Fishes, operated by the Dominican Sisters (O.P.), has faced challenge after challenge during the pandemic.

Located at the Sisters’ convent on Lisbon Road in Sabattus, Loaves & Fishes has been providing food and clothing to those in need since 1997. The food pantry serves residents of the community who are in need regardless of religious affiliation.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, the number of local people in need rose and continued to grow when another area food pantry was forced to close.

“Our food pantry clients have become more numerous because of unemployment and because of that closure. More people needed help with housing, rent, utilities, and medical expenses. Mortgages have become a little too high for them right now, risking loss of houses and cars. These people have to make choices between buying food and paying utilities and other bills. We needed to step up and help,” said Sr. Jacqueline Provencher, O.P. “We have been able to help many by giving them food for their families and paying some of their bills.”

The first step in confronting the increase in need was to ensure that Loaves & Fishes as well as the sisters’ thrift shop, Hidden Treasures, would still be able to continue offering support.

“The first area affected was our resources,” said Sr. Jacqueline. “Without those resources, we would have very little to offer to people in need. We depend on donors who contribute financially. During the pandemic, because of unemployment and uncertainty about the future, some of our donors had to significantly cut back on their donations. We also rely on the Loaves & Fishes Bingo for our financial base and we have not been able to have Bingo since March.”

But finding ways to survive and thrive in the face of extraordinary circumstances is nothing new for the Dominican Sisters, who arrived in Sabattus to serve the local community in the late 1920s, farming, raising cows and chickens, and even picking string beans and strawberries. It was in the mid-1990s that the Dominican Sisters, led by Sr. Lucille Fournier, O.P., devoted themselves to providing food and clothing to those in need through the Loaves & Fishes ministry.

“Our vision and that of Loaves & Fishes’ founder, Sister Lucille, is to proclaim the Word of God and to act in significant ways,” said Sr. Jacqueline. “This is the reason we support and continue Sister Lucille’s dream of helping the needy through Loaves & Fishes.

Sr. Lucille died in 2014, but her spirit and enthusiasm can be felt and seen in the ways in which the sisters have approached the present uncertainties. People are in need, and Loaves & Fishes must be there to help, a mission that has pulled at the heart strings of community members as well.

“During the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, Loaves & Fishes received numerous donations from local residents. In particular, the Thanksgiving Food Drive at Prince of Peace Parish and the donations from Prince of Peace parishioners provided enough resources for us to be able to distribute turkeys and festive food baskets to over 100 families in our area,” said Sr. Jacqueline. “The Knights of Columbus and their Coats for Kids program allowed us to give warm jackets, hats, and scarves to numerous families. At Christmas, again thanks to local donors, we were able to maintain our Giving Tree program, providing gifts for children and their families. Some of our donors have turned over their stimulus checks to Loaves & Fishes in an effort to give back to those who have less.”

That support, as well as the extraordinary dedication of the volunteers who serve in the ministry, have been invaluable, particularly when the crisis hit home.

“Some of our volunteers contracted COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized. Right now, one volunteer is in the ICU, on a ventilator, and in an induced coma,” said Sr. Jacqueline. “We ask for prayers for him, his family, and so many others who are in the same situation. Our volunteers are precious.”

And the crucial support and love that the community can count on at Loaves & Fishes has felt as precious, valued, or more gratefully received than today.  

“We are surviving because of the generosity of many and because of our volunteers who have never given up,” said Sr. Jacqueline.

If you can help Loaves & Fishes, financial donations, non-perishable food items, and clothing and furniture for Hidden Treasures will help the program continue offering assistance to area residents in crisis. For more information on how you can help, visit the Dominican Sisters’ website at www.sabattusdominicans.org or email loavesandfishessabattus@yahoo.com. You can also send monetary donations in the form of a check made out to “Loaves & Fishes” to: Loaves & Fishes, 61 Lisbon Road, Sabattus, ME 04280.

Items for purchase at Hidden Treasures can be viewed and scheduled for pickup on the thrift shop’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LoavesFishesHiddenTreasures), and updates on the food pantry are provided frequently at the Loaves & Fishes Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Loaves-Fishes-of-Sabattus-Maine-320698623802).

If you have an emergency need, live in the Sabattus area, and have exhausted all other means of help, please call Loaves & Fishes at 207-375-8399 on Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon or email loavesandfishessabattus@yahoo.com.