“We cannot NOT do this.”
-Barbara Hawkes, unofficial first director of the
Gorham Ecumenical Food Pantry, 1997
In June 1997, a group gathered at First Parish Congregational Church to talk about the need for an emergency food distribution channel in Gorham.
At that time, most churches had emergency food reserves for parishioners in need. First Parish and St. Anne’s had more requests than they were able to handle. Other churches were rarely asked for food and had rusted cans on their shelves.
After discussing the situation, the group decided to band together to more effectively serve their parishioners and anyone else who was hungry in Gorham. Under the auspices of the Gorham Ecumenical Commission, they formed a new organization, The Gorham Ecumenical Food Pantry, dedicated to the collection and distribution of food in Gorham.
With initial funding from the Gorham Ecumenical Commission, the group organized throughout the summer. In September 1997, the GEC Food Pantry opened at St. Anne’s Church, 299 Main Street in Gorham.
In the beginning, churches collected money specifically earmarked for the Pantry. First Parish donated their Christmas Eve collection. School Street donated loose change from the weekly collections. In addition, at that time, the churches supplied the majority of food that was distributed.
“If we had ten jars of peanut butter and a bag of chicken nuggets to divide up, we thought we were doing good,” said Fran Doucette, current Director of the Gorham Food Pantry. “We ran that way for the first three or four years.”
The Pantry was originally open on Thursday mornings from 9-11. Mary Jane Milan started a once-a-month Wednesday evening program the following spring. Despite the fact that the Pantry had no resources to advertise and clients came solely from word of mouth, demand grew.
By 1999, “We started shopping at Good Shepherd Food Bank,” said Doucette. “Once we hit sixty families a month, we needed more people to make decisions.”
The Gorham Ecumenical Commission sent notices to pastors of the churches active in the Pantry and asked them to nominate directors for the Pantry’s newly formed board. At that time, six churches actively supported the organization: First Parish UCC, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, Cressey Rd. Methodist, South Gorham Baptist, North Gorham UCC, and Little Falls Baptist. The original board came from these churches.
In 2001, the original Board of Directors established a mission statement and by-laws. They ran fund-raisers to raise awareness and money for the Pantry.
By 2003, the Food Pantry had outgrown the space at St. Anne’s Church. The Board of Directors began to look for a new, larger space to serve the hungry citizens of Gorham. They didn’t know it at the time, but it would be years before a solution presented itself.
In November 2007, Marc Badeau, President of Gorham Kiwanis told the board about Maine’s Community Block Grant, a competitive application grant that, if awarded, would help the Pantry fund a move. The Board of Directors applied for the grant and crossed their fingers.
By Spring 2008, the GEC Food Pantry had been awarded $44,000 from the Community Block Grant program. The Town of Gorham had donated a used portable. St. Anne’s and the Catholic Diocese offered a $1/year evergreen lease to locate the portable at the far right end of the church’s parking lot.
With nearly all the elements in place, the Board of Directors initiated a local capital campaign to raise $25,000. The money was needed to help move, restore, and renovate the portable as well as provide money for additional food and operating expenses.
The residents of Gorham overwhelmingly and generously supported the fund drive so that by the end of January 2009, the organization, now renamed The Gorham Food Pantry, moved into its new space where volunteers will be better able to distribute food to any Gorham resident in need.
The current Board of Directors would like to thank everyone, past and present, who gave their time and money so that no one in our town needs to go hungry. Gorham is truly a community that serves its neighbors.
Attendees of first Food Pantry meeting in June, 1997.
Deb Matthews, First Parish UCC
Sue Morrow, First Parish UCC
Deb Smith, St. Anne’s Catholic Church
Fran Doucette, School St. Methodist (now Cressey Rd. Methodist)
Chris Kimball, St. Anne’s Catholic Church
Rev. Linwood Arnold, School Street Methodist (now Cressey Rd. Methodist)
Barbara Hawkes, So. Gorham Baptist Church
Original Board of Directors
Rev. Phil Shearman