A Waldo County Bounty volunteer with an armful of fresh greens. Credit: Courtesy of Waldo County Bounty

FREEDOM, Maine — Organizers of Waldo County Bounty, a grassroots hunger-relief initiative, have full coffers — and big smiles — after a fundraising partnership with a nationally renowned local restaurant raised more than $325,000 in less than two weeks.

The windfall came thanks to Erin French of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, who used her creative reservation system to encourage donations to the nonprofit organization. Earlier this month, she offered people early access to her restaurant’s reservation lottery system, which opens once a year, in exchange for a donation to the hunger relief group. It took just 24 hours to exceed $100,000 in donations, a sum that shocked the Waldo County Bounty leadership team.

“I tend to be a pretty optimistic thinker, and this blew it out of the water,” co-founder Colleen Hanlon-Smith said May 18. “It’s really cool.”

The hunger relief organization will use the money to support local farmers and people experiencing food insecurity. Its mission is to improve access to locally grown food in Waldo County, which it does by purchasing crops from local farmers and distributing fresh produce to Waldo County food pantries.

“Now, thanks to compassionate donors from all over the world, our clients who face barriers to good nutrition will be able to receive fresh, high-quality ingredients grown by nearby farms,” Mary Leaming, another co-founder, said.

Waldo County Bounty also leads efforts to glean, or gather leftover produce, from local farms, as well as doing garden education and facilitating neighbor-to-neighbor produce exchanges.

In an Instagram video French shared with her followers when announcing the collaboration, she pointed out that the farms that work with Waldo County Bounty also supply produce to The Lost Kitchen.

“We at The Lost Kitchen believe in the power of community, coming together and supporting each other during challenging times,” French said. “Our customers came together in a meaningful and powerful way to help ensure that good fresh food will be accessible to all. The response has been overwhelming, and I am simply humbled by the outpouring of generosity from all The Lost Kitchen friends across the country and around the world who helped make such a huge difference here in our rural community.”