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Stories from the Road – Partner Highlight – Loaves and Fishes

On a late autumn day right before the holidays, we visited Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Ellsworth, Maine. We were warmly greeted by Board President Andy Matthews and Pantry Manager/Board Member Ken Hoogerhyde.

Between the two of them, Andy and Ken are the life force of the pantry—managing the overall operations, coordinating volunteers, and so much more. Their energy is infectious, as is their commitment to ensuring the pantry shelves remain stocked and ready for families to shop.

Loaves & Fishes has been in operation for over 40 years, providing necessary food assistance to families throughout Hancock County. Their mission is: to eliminate food insecurity in their county by treating all with respect, so pantry visitors not only leave with groceries but with dignity and hope. Like many pantries, they started in a church basement before moving to their current home of 21 years. Located in the center of Hancock County, on the property of the Unitarian Universalist Church, they are one of the largest food pantries in the area.

We were visiting just before Thanksgiving when the pantry was in full swing, preparing Thanksgiving dinners for families. With generous support from donors, Loaves & Fishes could distribute 24 turkey dinners, complete with sides, for Thanksgiving meals in 2021. They try to give everyone something extra to celebrate with during the holiday season, often a gift card to Hannaford Supermarkets or Shaw’s.

“For many of our families, it’s not easy to visit the pantry,” states Board President Andy Matthews, “There is so much tied up in the reason for them needing assistance – whether it’s a change in their work status or a family or medical situation that may have arisen. We are here to provide assistance that is vital to their health and well-being. We strive to do this with dignity and respect so families always feel welcomed and appreciated. We want anyone who walks through the door to feel at home and a part of a community. We follow the client choice model, where families shop for the items that best support their family needs.”

Like many small organizations, Loaves & Fishes is run entirely by volunteers except for the part-time pantry manager position. With more than 100 active volunteers, the pantry relies on 20-30 regular volunteers committed to helping out weekly. Volunteers come as individuals and part of a group that might be from one of several community organizations or faith communities. They all contribute to the pantry in countless ways.

Essential to the experience for families who come to shop at the pantry is the mantra that Ken Hoogerhyde, pantry manager and board member, shares with all volunteers: “It’s not about you, it’s about the client.” Loaves & Fishes want anyone and everyone who visits the pantry to feel welcome.

Besides partnering with Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, the pantry is a member of the Hancock County Food Security Network, which brings together area pantries to share information and resources. They are also involved with feeding programs and community organizations such as SNAP-Ed, Healthy Acadia’s gleaning initiative, and Hancock County Food Drive through United Way. Loaves & Fishes receives direct distributions of locally grown fresh produce through Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program from farm partner Bar Harbor Farms. The pantry also partners with local grocery stores, including Hannaford Supermarkets, Shaw’s and Walmart, for produce, deli items, meats, and bread. “Our partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank makes it possible for us to feed our local families. The Food Bank has extensive connections that allow us to purchase food at significantly reduced prices. We might never be able to afford to provide enough food to our families otherwise!” shares Andy.

It is inspiring what the Loaves & Fishes team accomplishes within the confines of their current space and demonstrates the need for a larger area to expand their services. Andy shared that, spurred by the upcoming end of their existing building lease and a desire to help more families, the Board found and purchased a new property in August 2021, made possible by a loan from the Genesis Community Loan Fund.

Andy noted, “Owning our “forever home” will allow for future growth and expansion plus the best use of our limited resources. Currently, families can visit the pantry once a month. Once we move into the new building, will accommodate families to come as often as they need to. We recognize it’s not typical to purchase a building before raising funds; however, when we found an existing building that met our needs so well, the pantry’s Board decided it was important to go forward. We like the idea of giving new life to an existing space for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is avoiding the expense of building from the ground up.”

After showing us the current pantry, Andy was eager to show us their new space. There is no doubt about the new space’s incredible potential for Loaves & Fishes and all of the people they serve. The new market will be seven times the size of the current one, which will allow more families to shop simultaneously and a great deal more food to be distributed.

Loaves & Fishes is very excited about having space for community collaboration. The new property will have a board /conference room that will be available to groups in need of space. They plan to create a Community Engagement Center on the first floor next to the market. They will conduct classes, provide opportunities for families, individuals, and seniors, to interact with and gather information from other service organizations, and offer meeting space for other community service organizations.

Loaves & Fishes is kicking off their new building capital campaign in February 2022 and will be working hard to secure the necessary funds for renovations. The new-to-them building has a bright future ahead with more food, gathering, and even outdoor space for community gardens! For more information on the new space, head over to the pantry’s website.

Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 4-6:30 p.m.

With our partner agencies spread throughout the entire state, there will likely be help nearby if you need food. If you’re looking for help or 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.