Bar port – As prices continue to rise at pumps and groceries, many struggling families are turning to Bar Harbor Food Pantry to prop up their budget. But with increased demand, donation levels have become static, leaving the store wondering how it will meet those growing needs.
Throughout the entire year of 2021, the Bar Harbor Food Pantry has seen 352 unique families enter their doors. This year, that number has already jumped to 376. Although 2022 is only halfway through, there have been 24 additional families, on average, visiting the store.
Tom Reeve, executive director of the BHFP, explained that people in need essentially doubled during the first year of COVID-19, but donations also doubled during 2020. He noted instances of extreme generosity where people signed up for all the stimulus checks. These contributions allowed the store to keep up with demand. Now they’re not seeing the same outflow of donations they saw during the early part of the pandemic.
“I think people don’t realize that there is still a lot, if not more, that is needed right now,” Reeve said.
Home food price indices are up 11.9 percent since last year, the largest 12-month increase in more than 40 years, according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index report from the Labor Department. Although all six major grocery store group price indices increased, meat, poultry, fish and eggs increased the most, rising 14.2 percent, with the egg price index rising 32.2 percent.
Since the store pays for the majority of its food and can’t count on consistent donations, the overhead has squeezed its finances, too. Although most bulk goods are purchased at a discount through the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Reeve said weekly food bills are now hovering around $3,000 — double what they used to be.
“We also see that people are taking more than they used to and this is evidence that there is not enough money for the purchases,” Reeve said. “We’ve also seen some people who can’t come because of [high] gas prices.”
Maine continues to see record gas prices above the national average. According to AAA, the average gas price in Maine was $5 as of Tuesday compared to the national average of $4.88.
High gas prices limited the amount of deliveries Reeve could make. He works alongside another employee and a few loyal volunteers. The store’s budget constraints, coupled with a staff shortage, means there aren’t enough resources to take these long trips around the island.
“We’re under a lot of pressure for volunteers,” Reeve said. “We mostly focus on deliveries to people who can’t get here physically.”
For those who come to the store to shop, the amount of new faces she’s seen recently is about half of the total visit, said Sarah Greaves, store manager at BHFP.
I feel like food and gas prices are obviously a cost of living. I mean, it’s everything — put everything in the pile.” Greaves, when asked why more people are coming in, said: “Their dollar isn’t going away. Even myself, I found it difficult.”
As Reeves looks for ways to save costs, he hopes the donations will eventually come back. Items that are usually needed in stock include produce, cleaning supplies, cooking oils, jellies, jams, feminine products, and pet foods. But staple foods are always needed, too.
Donations can be delivered at the warehouse located at 36 Mt. Desert St. or the Bar Harbor Hannaford bin or the YWCA distribution fund.
For more information, including how to volunteer, go to www.barharborfoodpantry.org.