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Stories from the Road – Saco Food Pantry

On a warm summer day in July, we traveled south to visit the Saco Food Pantry, nestled in the charming town of Saco, Maine. As we stepped inside, we were immediately struck by the sense of community and dedication that filled the space. The Saco Food Pantry stands as a shining example of neighbors coming together to make a difference, as it is run entirely by volunteers who pour their hearts into helping neighbors experiencing hunger.

Our guide for the day was Sheldon Nightingale, a kind-hearted soul who not only volunteers his time daily to the food pantry but is also on the board of directors. Sheldon’s commitment to giving back to his community is evident as he shared his journey into volunteering. Originally from Bucksport, he ventured to Virginia for four years before joining the Navy. Afterward, he settled in Connecticut, where he met his wife, a fellow Mainer. Together, they made the decision to retire in Maine, and Sheldon found a sense of purpose by dedicating his time to the Saco Food Pantry. Alongside volunteering at Age Friendly Saco, Sheldon spends an impressive 20 hours each week at the food pantry, leading volunteers, connecting with Saco neighbors visiting the pantry, and harnessing relationships with farmers, partners like Good Shepherd Food Bank and retailers in the area.

As we strolled through the pantry, we learned that while it currently operates as a volunteer-assisted shopping model, the Saco Food Pantry has plans to transition into an open-style shopping experience for neighbors starting in September. Currently, volunteers assist families and individuals by gathering food for them, ensuring that every individual’s dietary needs are met with care and consideration. After the change, the experience will resemble a trip to the grocery store, with shoppers going through the aisles to get the food they need. Currently the pantry has no residency requirements and is open to the public, but due to rising food costs, will soon be only available to Saco area residents. Sheldon said the pantry is visited by many neighbors including new Mainers and individuals, but mostly older Mainers, veterans, and families. The pantry doesn’t currently offer food deliver because they have a partnership with Age Friendly Saco that manages their at-home food delivery service. Next door is home to Open Hands and Open Hearts, a free clothing store for children.

During our visit, we observed dedicated volunteers bustling around, diligently shopping for neighbors. The pantry itself was thoughtfully arranged with well-organized aisles, a testament to the efforts of another volunteer with a keen eye for detail. Their meticulous work ensures that fellow volunteers can efficiently gather the items needed to fill the bags for neighbors quickly. Sue, another regular volunteer since 2010 packed special goody bags for any children visiting that day. She likes filling these bags with care and extra snacks to excite the kids.

Another dedicated volunteer we had the pleasure of meeting was Rick, who has been an integral part of the pantry since 2019. Rick’s passion for helping others, especially older Mainers, shines through in his tireless efforts. As a board member, he has found a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose in his role. Rick shared, “Knowing I can come in and put a smile on someone’s face and listen to them, hear their stories, and help give back gives me a glimmer of hope, and I feed off that. I find that my heart is full at the end of the day, and that I have made a difference.” With a heartwarming dedication to the cause, Rick volunteers six days a week, making an extraordinary impact on the lives of neighbors experiencing hunger. Originally from Alabama, Rick’s journey led him to Maine, where he now thrives helping people in his community and beyond.

Among the volunteers was an inspiring mother-son duo, Sam, and Camden. Every Wednesday, they happily devote their time to the pantry, and Samantha’s giving spirit extends to the free clothing store next door. For her, volunteering with her 12-year-old son during the summer holds a special significance, as it gives them the opportunity to bond while giving back. Samantha expressed, “This gives us something to do together that gives back to our community.” Sam also shared that because Camden is so young there are not many places in the area for him to volunteer. “We love coming here. The other volunteers are so friendly and welcoming.”

The Saco Food Pantry stands as a testament to the incredible power of compassion, community, and service. Thanks to the selfless efforts of volunteers like Sheldon, Rick, Samantha, and Camden, countless lives are touched, and the spirit of hope and support thrives within Saco and beyond. It is truly a place where the joy of giving is felt by all, creating a warm and welcoming haven for those seeking a glimmer of hope in challenging times.

The pantry is open Monday – Friday 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. and the last Tuesday of each month from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. for Saco area residents. Adjacent to the food pantry, Open Hands Open Heart is a free clothing store for infants and children up to age 11.

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 nearly 600 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.