Burlington, Maine, is a small town located 45 miles north of Bangor in Penobscot County, and as you can imagine with a population of 363 hometown spirit and community pride runs strong. We were fortunate to be able to visit the Burlington Food Pantry during the week before Thanksgiving. Being there, you could feel the energy and giving spirit of the volunteers as they coordinated and distributed food to 160 local households. Along with essential every day staples, much needed household items were also included in every box for each family, and farm fresh squash was available to take as a Thanksgiving side.
Since the 1980s, Burlington, Maine, had a small, but mighty, food pantry available for its community members in need. It was located in a historic church and supported by the Chester Food Cupboard, located in Chester, a short 30-minute drive away. About ten years ago, Maureen Bean, who has been involved with the pantry going on about 10 years, with the help of a few other community members, began assisting the Burlington Food Pantry by picking up donations and distributing food, and at that time there were less than 20 pantry visitors.
Toward the end of 2019, Maureen began researching and corresponding with Good Shepherd Food Bank about becoming a partner. Kai Loundon, community resource representative for Penobscot County at the time, often met with Maureen to talk about Maine’s charitable food network and how Good Shepherd Food Bank works with our partner agencies. Maureen thought he did a great job explaining how Food Bank partners have access to USDA product and a generous amount of other food necessary to better meet the growing needs in the community. In March of 2020, the Food Bank was beyond excited to welcome the Burlington Food Pantry as an official partner.
Maureen was teaching school full time until early March 2020, when schools across the nation closed due to the pandemic. Knowing the prevalent need in the community and among her students, she saw that the need to address food insecurity in Burlington was more important now than ever. Pantry volunteers started making phone calls, picking up donations from Hannaford, and then held the first pantry day on March 26. The pantry had since moved out of the local church and into a location on land loaned to them. The land had a small building with refrigeration, which was perfect for the pantry’s needs at that time. At first, only 12 community members came but once awareness grew for the pantry, the number consistently increased.
In December 2020, the pantry’s landowner had a medical issue and the pantry was asked to find a new location. Volunteers began telling the story of the small pantry on network television, in newspapers, and among friends and neighbors, asking for help and raising funds for a new building. By February 2021 the pantry was able to move to a temporary location at the local VFW hall and by the end of March, ground was broken on a leased piece of property. In less than four weeks, volunteer carpenters built a 14′ by 40′ building! In addition, Burlington Food Pantry hopes to secure funding to build another facility adjacent to the existing pantry.
“People helping people! It’s a good feeling all the way around! I’m grateful for everyone pitching in,” stated Director Maureen Bean. Currently, there are 12 regular volunteers from a list of 20 people who help off and on. Volunteer hours and needs are posted regularly on their Facebook page. While some help is seasonal and some are locals who spend their winters in warmer climates, the pantry finds most of their volunteers are homegrown locals who enjoy lending a helping hand to friends, neighbors, and visitors alike.
Here are a few quotes from their volunteer team:
The pantry has a collaborative partnership with Eastern Agency Area on Aging, with headquarters located in Brewer, Maine, but the organization serves Penobscot and surrounding counties. The food pantry has distributed Meals on Wheels, Commodity Boxes, and have placed EAAA brochures in distribution boxes. They also keep in touch with other area food pantries, including the Lincoln Regional Food Cupboard, Chester Food Cupboard, THRIVE Millinocket and support the food cupboard at the Lincoln Church of Christ. The Burlington Food Pantry also supplies food for an afterschool program in Howland that serves 30 families or more every other week. Anyone visiting the pantry is also given healthcare and Medicare resources through Joan Belcher, RN, an insurance agent with Reed Insurance.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Good Shepherd Food Bank. Their support, advice, and help have made our pantry possible,” Maureen said. “Kai got us off to a great start with all the ‘firsts’ that we encountered. We were glad that he came to visit us on a distribution day in our new facility along with our new Food Bank Community Resource Representative Jenny Jones. They pitched right in, helping us serve our great community, shoulder to shoulder with our wonderful volunteers. It was such an encouragement to all of us!”
“We have been blessed with a permanent building that is owned and operated directly by Burlington Food Pantry. Within a few short weeks, we will purchase the land free and clear, making us a stand-alone food pantry,” proudly beamed Maureen. “We’re here to stay! This part of northeastern Maine is a food desert with very deserving people who face food insecurity daily. More than ever, Burlington Food Pantry continues to address that need now and for many, many years to come. We have a dedicated and stable group of volunteers who are steadfast and committed to addressing food insecurity in this region.”
The Burlington Food Pantry is open on specific Fridays every month. Their 2022 dates will be posted on their Facebook page soon. Good Shepherd Food Bank helps to feed people from every county in Maine. With our partner agencies spread throughout the entire state, there will likely be help close by if you need food. If you’re looking for help, or if you’re interested in donating food or volunteering at your local food pantry, please visit our Food Map to find a pantry near you.
Good Shepherd Food Bank works in partnership with more than 500 hunger-relief organizations, located from Kittery to Fort Kent, to help distribute food to community members in need. Our network of partner agencies includes food pantries, meal sites, senior centers, school programs, and healthcare facilities.