Winslow's pantry struggles to keep up with growing demand

Winslow’s pantry struggles to keep up with growing demand

WINSLOW – Pantry organizers are asking for donations of cash, food and volunteers as another month sees demand for its services at a record high.

On the second and fourth Thursdays of every month, the Winslow Community Cupboard is open to approximately 220 people who move into the parking lot behind Winslow Congregational Church to receive a food distribution for their families. The 27 volunteers who are fulfilling the requests were serving 150 families last December.

This is a 47% increase in families seeking pantry assistance. Organizers say with approximately 18 to 20 families joining this line of cars down Lithgow Street each month, the demand is constantly growing. As well as store operating costs.

There is a misconception about the Winslow Community Cupboard, and food pantries in general, that they receive donated food for free, according to Treasury Operations Manager Bruce Bottigliere.

Volunteer Scott McAdoo welcomes people with a menu to choose from during a Thursday catering at the Winslow Community Cupboard. The pantry is located at Winslow Congregational Church on Lithgow Street. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As a partner with Auburn-based Good Shepherd Food Bank, the Winslow pantry receives tens of thousands of pounds of food at a rate of 16 cents a pound. These costs are accumulating. On Monday, Treasury received 32,000 lbs. of food from the Good Shepherd. That’s more than $5,000 spent on food this week alone to feed all the families it serves from 24 different cities. In August, the Treasury presented more than 80,000 pounds at a cost of just under $13,000.

With more funding, Bottiglier said, he could expand his selection of food options, take on some high-quality products and continue to provide an individualized service to each customer. While other stores patronize uniforms, and pre-packed boxes for customers, every car that approaches the locker is met by a volunteer, who delivers a two-page order form and asks them to “pick and pick” the items they want — from meat and fresh produce to dog bones and toiletries.

While people wait for their orders to arrive, they can pick out a few items from a “free-for-all” table in the middle of the parking lot, piled with dishwashing cleaning brushes, stacks of freshly baked Hannaford candy, and a mountain of instant O-jelly. Buttiglier hopes that by the time they leave, people will not only have enough to eat for the next few hours or days, but also for two weeks before they head back into the closet again.

“We pride ourselves on being different from other food stores,” he said.

Jim Varney, 53, of Winslow, regularly visits the closet on behalf of his mother, who has diabetes. Nearly half of Cupboard’s customers are, like Jim’s mother, over 60. And those who seek help struggle with the rising cost of living.

With the virus spreading, higher gas prices earlier in the summer and other pressures, “it was one thing after another,” Varney said.

Treasury assistance, for many, means less pressure on families being forced to make trade-offs between rent, food, electricity, heating, gas or health care.

Buttiglier hopes the public will donate to maintain the well-stocked treasury and staff. Although the store organizes monthly fundraising events, it is frequent donations of money, food or volunteering from companies and individuals, ensuring that the store adheres to its ethics of never turning away a hungry person, he said.

Those interested in making a recurring contribution can send an email [email protected]

Those interested in making a one-time donation may send a check, payable to the Winslow Community Cupboard, to the Cupboard at 12 Lithgow Street in Winslow, 04901. Donations can be made by credit card or PayPal via the link https://winslowucc. org/winslow-community-cupboard.

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