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Pop-Up Pantry in Dexter

This week I was able to tag along to a Dexter mobile food distribution. The weather was perfect and I am thankful that I had a chance to help "Get Food Moving" in a new setting. What is a mobile food pantry like? Let me tell you more!

Rod stands on the back of the PRFC delivery truck.
PRFC delivery driver, Rod Willey, packing up the mobile pantry after a successful distribution in downtown Dexter.

Although the event took place on Tuesday, the real work for it began on Monday. On this day, a crew of volunteers gathered in the PRFC warehouse to pack 120 boxes of shelf-stable food. This month, each box contained some configuration of shelf-stable milk, several cans of vegetables, fruit, chicken, tuna, soup, crushed tomatoes, peanut butter, box mix stroganoff, pasta, and cereal. The Monday crew has the packing system down to a science--tables are placed in a row and lined with 3 or 4 items and our "snake" rolling system is set up behind volunteers. One volunteer makes boxes and loads them onto the snake, the boxes roll down the line and are loaded by a volunteer (or two) at each table. Another volunteer closes the boxes and stacks them on a pallet. This week, we packed 120 boxes in 35 minutes!

This is a gif of a food box packing assembly line. Volunteers load canned and dry goods in boxes as they roll down a conveyer system.
Volunteers Jasper, Roxy, Carla, Andrew, and Trampas assemble a record-breaking 120 boxes in 35 minutes!

On Tuesday morning, we loaded the big PRFC truck with the pallets of boxed food. We also loaded insulated bins full of frozen chicken, cartons of liquid eggs, bread, and some miscellaneous supplies. Then we set out for Dexter. Upon arrival, the municipal lot behind Bangor Savings Bank was transformed in a matter of minutes into a mobile food pantry. At this event, we were also able to move some random donations PRFC had received recently--we had dog food and diapers for anyone who needed them! We were also blessed that morning with a large donation of apples.

A drive-through lane was formed with cones as cars started to form a line. Volunteers arrived and quickly began bagging the frozen chicken, liquid eggs, bread, and apples. One volunteer gathered some basic information from each waiting car--town, number of people in the household, number of people under 18, number of people over 60--as others loaded an appropriate number of boxes and bags into open trunks and backseats.

This mobile event is held monthly and started in July 2020. I asked Trampas King, Dexter's town manager, and an event organizer, how the mobile distribution is different from the other food distribution in Dexter. "The town has had different food pantries throughout the years. For the past 12 years, it has been run (food distributed) through New Hope Baptist Church and it is sponsored by the town. How they have run it is that the individual has to be qualified by the town, meaning a Dexter resident and low income (proof). I don’t know what they look for qualifications on low income but I imagine it is the same as getting general assistance."

Data collected on Tuesday show that the mobile pantry was attended mostly by people from Dexter, but also St. Albans, Ripley, Corinna, Hartland, Garland, Cambridge, and Sangerville. Approximately 238 total people benefitted from 120 boxes of food, including 45 children and 87 adults over age 60. Visitors to the mobile pantry aren't asked for ID, proof of income, or proof of residence. They are encouraged to take an extra box if they know someone who will benefit from it.

Trampas explained that the number of folks getting food from the mobile pantry is usually between 90 and 120. Trampas and some of the other distribution volunteers deliver some boxes, too. When asked if there were many people who relied on both the formal distribution and the mobile distribution, Trampas said "There are different faces, a few do both, but not many... if we can help one that is struggling it is worth it."

"Sometimes I feel that town managers are always looking out for the residents that pay the big money on taxes and making sure they are first in line when it comes to the town manager's time, and this is true. I also feel that we need to see everyone in the community so delivering food to 40 homes is a way of seeing those people is good also," explained Trampas. "I enjoy seeing the people and I believe they enjoy seeing me. Being out in the community is very important in being a town manager. The food distributions are just one of my ways of doing it."

"We do the Dexter mobile distributions because people are in need of food, good food," said Andrew Bermudez, town councilor and another event organizer. "I believe the need is going to just keep getting greater too. I am a firm believer that if you want to see your community go from surviving to thriving, you really need to help all those who need help. We need to provide them opportunities to get maybe a little ahead and let them know that the community does care about them."

Though the event is a once-monthly mobile pantry for now, there are plans in the works to make a more established pantry in downtown Dexter. Andrew is also the chair of a new non-profit, Heart of Maine Resource Center. "We are an official non-profit now and waiting on our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS," he explained. "The main purpose of it will be to provide good nutritional food to those in need. And by need, we mean anyone that has that need at the time they are asking. It can be ongoing or one-time. I am hoping that we won’t have to do as many mobile distributions anymore. The plan is, if COVID allows, that we begin to allow those in need to 'shop' and take what they can use and like. Of course, they will be limited based on family size and such but I believe that there will be less waste."

Andrew explained that "The other part is the reason why we are calling it a resource center. We hope to provide individuals and families access to other resources. There are many resources available and a lot of people in need don’t know they are there or how to access them. We hope to bridge that gap and also provide additional resources ourselves such as various counseling services, home repair/weatherization work and such."

You can read more about the Heart of Maine Resource Center building here:

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