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Windham Food Pantry, Rotary Club partner up

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Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 2:50 pm

WINDHAM - By teaming with a local nonprofit, the Windham Food Pantry is now able to get more bang for its buck.

On Monday, the first shipment of food from the Good Shepherd Food-Bank arrived, courtesy of a new arrangement the food pantry has brokered with the Sebago Lake Rotary Club. Since the Rotary club is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, it qualifies as a recipient for food donations from the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

The Rotary, in effect, is essentially the new administrator of the food pantry, although it will not run the pantry. Instead, the town, which has run the program for years, will continue the day-to-day operation for the club, which also gave a $3,000 donation to the pantry to celebrate the new relationship.

"We've been trying to get this to happen for a long time, and now it's finally happened," said Tom Noonan, the Rotary president. "You need a 501(c)3 as a clearinghouse, so Rotary has signed a contract with Good Shepherd Food-Bank, but it's operated by the Windham Food Pantry. The town of Windham, aka the food pantry, is operating it for us. But technically, we're the umbrella organization for the food pantry in Windham because we have a 501(c)3."

Donations and Windham taxpayers support the food pantry, while food is transported by the town's public works department. Director Madeline Roberts said the new arrangement with the Good Shepherd Food-Bank will be a big cost savings for those taxpayers, as well as private donors, since Good Shepherd offers better prices.

"We've been able to see a huge savings working with the Good Shepherd, which not only benefits the pantry, it benefits the taxpayers," Roberts said. "It's money we don't have to spend tons of to get the same food."

Prior to signing with Good Shepherd, which is based in Auburn but has a new warehouse in Portland, Roberts bought food from local supermarkets, usually at regular prices with no discount. She would do her best to buy sale items, but even sale items don't compare with Good Shepherd's prices.

For example, Roberts said, "I have just been able to purchase 156 turkeys for Thanksgiving at a price of 16 cents a pound. Last year, on sale, I paid 59 cents, so that's a savings on that one item alone of around $600."

Another example, macaroni and cheese, was usually 75 cents a box at the supermarket. Roberts said the same box is 19 cents at Good Shepherd.

In total, she expects to save about $1,000 to $1,200 a month, or nearly half of her budget.

Good Shepherd is able to buy in bulk and partners with about 600 organizations around the state. Clara McConnell, communications manager for the food bank, said the new arrangement with Windham is typical of many pantries.

"All our partners have to be nonprofits. It's common to see towns (provide funding for the food pantry) but it's becoming less common because a lot of that taxpayer money has gone away because it can't be afforded anymore," McConnell said.

McConnell said the food bank is able to offer drastically reduced rates, namely 16 cents per pound of food, thanks to donors such as manufacturers, supermarkets and community food drives.

"We have generous donors who make this all possible," McConnell said, adding that donations have remained steady in recent years. "Retail partners, businesses, individuals. We really depend on those people."

Noonan and Deb McPhail, vice president of the Rotary, are excited about the club's involvement with the Windham Food Pantry.

"The Rotary club's model is service above self, and that's what we are all about," McPhail said. "I volunteered here for years and I see what the needs are and also see how much it's increased over the years as well."

"You've got a great organization here, just look at the place and all the volunteers," Noonan added. "And the Rotary couldn't do what these guys do, but we can help fund it."

Noonan, who has directed the club's annual fishing derby on Sebago Lake but this year will focus on the club's statewide derby, said Good Shepherd Food Bank will also become a major beneficiary of derby proceeds, along with Camp Sunshine and Maine Children's Cancer Program.

"It's the board's decision, but we do tend to lean towards stuff that multiplies our donations," Noonan said. "If you gave $100 to Good Shepherd and said, ‘I want it to go into the Windham account,' they're able to turn it into $700 or $800 worth of food. They get a lot of food donated, they buy food cheap, and they do their own fundraising, so it's a multiplier, which we love. The community can only give so much, so if you're able to multiply what you give, more people benefit."

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