Rising prices add urgency to annual food, fuel drive
FREEPORT — On Saturday, volunteers and board members from nonprofit organizations in Freeport and Brunswick will endure the cold for 24 hours for a food and fuel aid drive and fundraiser aimed at delivering a message that some in Maine are enduring hunger and cold every night.
Sue Mack, who has run the 24-hour “Freeze Out Food and Fuel Drive” event for Freeport Community Services for seven years, said Tuesday that demand at the organization’s food pantry and heating assistance program has been steadily increasing.
“We’re seeing folks who have already gone through their LIHEAP funds, which is as little as $79 sometimes,” Mack said. “Some are adding cash to their LIHEAP money just to come up with the minimum amount that the oil company will deliver.”
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is a federal program that provides heating subsidies to income-eligible families.
Mack said that the Freeport group’s fuel assistance program was able to help 85 families with $200 fuel vouchers last year, but that dollar amount is also buying less fuel because prices have risen since last year.
Deep cuts in federal fuel subsidies this year exacerbate the problem. Maine is slated to receive $16 million less in LIHEAP funding this year than for the winter of 2010-11.
Meanwhile, the state average price of No. 2 heating oil continued to climb, rising a penny last week to $3.72 per gallon, with parts of Central Maine seeing prices as high as $4.07.
“We’re doing the best we can to help people get through,” Mack said. “It’s been a warm winter and, boy, we are lucky.”
Mack said the organization has more than tripled its goal from last year, seeking to raise $10,000 in the event.
“It sounds like a bold number, but we recognize that we had to be bold this year,” Mack said. “We serve a lot of people who can’t believe that they need help — it’s just a tough time for most people.”
Mack said half of the proceeds from the Freeze Out will benefit the food pantry and the other half will go to the fuel assistance program.
Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) will take part in the fundraiser for the first time.
MCHPP director Cyndy Carney said the Brunswick food pantry’s demand also is up, about 15 percent.
Mary Turner, who coordinates a network of Mid-coast food pantries from the MCHPP offices in Brunswick, said she also has seen many new families coming in to the organization’s soup kitchen.
Turner said that beyond raising awareness and funds — and collecting food — she hopes that the event will provide a model for food pantries she works with in other Midcoast communities.
“We’d like to help other pantries do it as well,” Turner said.
For food pantries, Mack said, the first months of the year can be the toughest, coming off of the Christmas season after which she said the spirit of giving tends to drop off.
“This time of year is a slim time,” Mack said. “We’ve seen some bare shelves and that was the original thinking — to have this event in January and February when the shelves were bare.”
Mack said the Freeze Out idea, in which volunteers brave the elements in public for 24 hours to dramatize the plight of cold and hungry Mainers, first came from the United Church of Christ in Gorham and Portland, but those two events have since stopped.
“We were feeling kind of lonely out there,” Mack said.
She said she was pleased to have Martin’s Point Health Care sponsor the Freeport event for the first year and to have the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program join in the effort.
“It feels like we’ve taken a little idea and made it into a big idea and we’re really happy to be joined by Brunswick,” Mack said.
Both events will run from 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. The Brunswick Freeze Out will be held in the Norway Savings parking lot at Cook’s Corner. The Freeport event will take place in front of the First Parish UCC Church at 40 Main St.
Volunteers at both events will accept nonperishable food donations, volunteer help and cash donations.
For more information about the Brunswick event, contact Mary Turner at email@example.com or 725-2716. For more information about the Freeport event, call Sue Mack at 869-1005.