Good Shepherd Food Bank: Keeping Mainers Fed Through Good Times and Bad

April 14th, 2020

In normal times, the Good Shepherd Food Bank provides a critical service to Mainers who struggle to keep food on the table. In 2019, Maine’s largest hunger-relief organization distributed more than 26 million meals to people in need—that’s about 81,000 pounds of food or the equivalent of 68,000 meals a day. And these aren’t normal times.   

Good Shepherd was launched in 1981 as a grassroots effort led by JoAnn and Ray Pike. The operation that began in their home steadily grew and now includes distribution warehouses in Auburn and Hampden. They work from Kittery to Fort Kent, optimizing a network of some 450+ local food pantries, schools, and senior centers to get nutritious food in the right hands.

COVID-19 complications

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, more Mainers are finding it hard to make ends meet and turning to food pantries for help. Although data is still coming in, the shift is palpable. Erin Yarema, Director of Major and Planned Giving at Good Shepherd, says 70% of their food pantry partners are reporting a jump in demand of 25% or more.

Grocery stores and markets are struggling to keep shelves stocked. Those retailers—and the distributors that supply them—typically donate 70% of the food that funnels through Good Shepherd. “Thus, we have dramatically increased our purchasing of shelf-stable foods for distribution,” explains Yarema. That takes money.

At the same time, the outbreak has impacted volunteering, both at the Food Bank and at local food pantries. “Because many of our volunteers are senior citizens or in other higher-risk categories, we have encouraged them to consider stepping back,” says Yarema. On the flip side, they are grateful to see new folks who suddenly have pockets of time raising their hands to help.  

Like businesses and organizations everywhere, the Food Bank is working hard to protect staff, volunteers, and recipients. “In our warehouse we’ve increased cleaning, requested that anyone who feels even the least bit sick stay home, instituted strict six-foot distancing, and recently started requiring the use of face masks,” she explains. All over the state, their food pantry partners have adopted low- and no-touch exchanges.

Beyond groceries

Although providing food is at the heart of it, Good Shepherd Food Bank does much more than gather and distribute. They also seek and implement solutions to change the story in Maine, where there are more hungry households than in most states. With food insecurity affecting 1 in every 5 children and about 1 in every 6 seniors, the problem is widespread. Good Shepherd is responding with creative programs like these that attack hunger from different angles:

Community Health & Hunger: A collaboration with Maine health care providers to help people who need food and also have chronic conditions with support, resources, and nutritious food.
Cooking Matters: Free cooking and nutrition classes for those at risk, led by volunteers since 1993.
Mainers Feeding Mainers: A partnership of 70+ farmers and fisherman who distribute 2 million pounds of fresh, healthy, local food to hungry Mainers each year. 
Join us in the fight against hunger

Good Shepherd always welcomes volunteers and contributions. The need is greater now than ever, which is why Martin’s Point Health Care has donated $25,000 to help feed Mainers during this critical time.

Food donations are best given directly to your local food pantry. Find your nearest pantry and more information at Good Shepherd. Volunteers can also contact Bethany Tatro at 207-782-3554 ext. 1169; [email protected].