December 7, 2013

Fairfield food pantry boosted by anonymous donor

An unexpected offer of $25,000 in matching funds gave a needed boost to the pantry’s flagging fundraising campaign Friday.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — When Louella Bickford, a volunteer with the Interfaith Food Pantry, was standing at the counter at the local post office Friday morning, she checked her email on her phone and was stunned by what she saw.

click image to enlarge

FUNDRAISING REINVIGORATED: The future home of the Interfaith Food Pantry in Fairfield.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Donations accepted

Volunteers ask that donations be sent to:

Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry Building Fund

P.O. Box 547

Fairfield, ME 04937.

“The guy says, ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Where am I?’” she remembered. “It just hit me.”

Bickford had just received an offer of a $25,000 matching grant for the pantry’s fundraising campaign, which had all but stalled over the past five months.

“My stomach is just so nervous,” she said Friday, hours after having received the news. “You’d think I won a million dollars. It doesn’t come to me, but it feels that way.”

The donor, who wished to remain anonymous and whom Bickford identified only as a former Fairfield resident, was motivated by an article in Friday’s Morning Sentinel. In the article, Bickford, who has headed the pantry’s fundraising efforts, said the pantry had raised only $8,000 over the past five months, after raising $50,000 in the campaign’s early days.

The pantry, which is run by volunteers, has been feeding those in need in the area for 20 years. Since 2009, it has been operating in temporary quarters on Newhall Street, a space volunteers say is not large enough to support the operation. The volunteers, mostly retirees, work outside in the snow to sort and hand out produce, while the cramped quarters create privacy concerns for those who come to the pantry for help.

Early this year, the town donated a small warehouse behind the Town Office to the pantry organization as a new, permanent home. The building is large enough, but it needs an estimated $150,000 in renovation work, including the addition of plumbing and heating and the replacement of the third floor with a new peaked roof.

Bickford said the new donation has revitalized the campaign, which also may benefit from a grant program administered by the town’s economic development committee.

The pantry could receive up to $25,000 in matching grant funds for exterior improvements, if the application is approved.

That means that future donations could trigger two matches, one from the grant and one from the anonymous donor.

Bickford said the anonymous donor has set a deadline of March 12 for the group to redeem his offer, which Bickford hopes will spur additional donations from local businesses and individuals.

Town Manager Josh Reny said the news should help to generate more interest in the campaign.

“It’s an enticement for other people to give money,” he said.

Since it was founded in 1993, the pantry has given food to 68,000 people — a vital service not only to those in need, but to taxpayers as well, Reny said.

“Services are under less pressure from the town because of the pantry,” he said. Under the state-mandated general assistance program, under which the town and state split the cost of helping those in need, “we typically don’t dole out money for food because there’s this pantry. Any time we give them a call in an emergency situation, they are willing to open their doors and help.”

When Bickford got the good news Friday morning, she said, the first person she called was Nancy Marcoux, one of two co-directors at the pantry.

Marcoux said she was as excited to receive the news as Bickford was.

“She said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ I said, ‘No, but hold on a minute, and I will.’”

Marcoux said the donation has helped to validate her faith, both in people and in a higher power.

“It’s like I said from the beginning,” she said. “The good Lord will not let us down.”

If the money is raised by the donor’s March 12 deadline, Bickford said, the pantry should be able to move into its new home before June.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 Twitter: @hh_matt
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