When I volunteered weekly at the Gathering Place, a drop-in day shelter and resources center on Tenney Way behind the Brunswick downtown Hannaford, our guests ate lunch next door at Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Center. Before the pandemic, they experienced a free, sit-down restaurant experience, with waiters bringing main course, drinks and then dessert offerings. People visited with each other and took fruit from baskets on the table. Volunteers cooked, waited tables and cleaned dishes and kitchen. Guests could take home a large variety of Hannaford day-old breads and experienced the dignity and pleasure of a supportive community while meeting their basic needs.
When pandemic social-distancing requirements made congregate dining impossible, beginning in the spring of 2020, MCHPP shifted to packaging the vegetarian and meat meals and handing them out to guests along with breadstuffs, deli items and prepared grocery store meals. Increasing need for food forced a doubling of production to 200 meals per day, every weekday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and an hour later on Saturdays. Guests can come weekly to MCHPP to fill boxes with food staples, fruits, vegetables, meat and bread. MCHPP also delivers these boxes on a monthly schedule to sites in Harpswell, Bowdoin and Lisbon.
One year ago, MCHPP expanded its operations tremendously to a large warehouse in Brunswick Landing. This facility has a commercial size MOFGA-certified kitchen, complete with commercial scale steamers, ovens, sinks and dishwasher. Here, donated produce from area farms is cooked into meals or blanched and frozen for future cooking. Two huge freezers store pallets of these vegetables, meats and donated food. Canned and dry goods are stored in ceiling-high, metal-frame racks near the entry area. The state-certified kitchen is also available on a sliding scale basis to area nonprofits and small food businesses during some work-day hours.
Each week, MCHPP’s volunteer drivers complete over 30 pickups from retail partners. Truckloads of produce from Hannaford, Shaw’s, Target and Walmart back into the loading docks at MCHPP to deliver edible food just past it’s best-sale date. Pallet jacks bring these boxes to several high tables, where three volunteers sort edible from compostable donations. Edible vegetables and fruits are reclaimed and sent out to school pantries; Topsham, Bowdoin and Lisbon pickup sites; and the Tenney Way Food Pantry. Edible food is sent to dozens of sites across Midcoast Maine, including schools, libraries, senior housing complexes, direct-to-door deliveries and smaller food pantries.
Food not fit for people can often be diverted to MCHPP’s farm partners for their livestock, most commonly pigs and a Litchfield-based emu farm and animal sanctuary. Inedible food is composted by Agri-Cycle, ensuring that despite processing thousands of pounds of foods daily, MCHPP sends very little food waste to landfills. Agri-Cycle collects food waste from Maryland to Maine and composts for farms or decomposes it by microorganisms in an anaerobic digestion chamber in Exeter, N.H., to produce electricity and heat. The liquid portion produced is used to make cropland fertilizer, which replaces fertilizers made from fossil fuel.
This amazing scale of food recovery happening most days at Brunswick Landing saves grocery stores waste disposal costs plus greatly reduces carbon emissions from food decomposition in landfills or incinerators. Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland ban commercial food waste over 1 or 2 tons from landfills. Three of these states limit this requirement to food waste generated within 15-25 miles of an anaerobic digester or composting facility. If this food waste had been buried in a landfill without oxygen, it would have produced methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which would have been released to the atmosphere. Instead, the food is composted and made into plant-based fertilizer, a preferred and necessary resource for farmers. This closed-loop cycle is essential for humans to live sustainably on Mother Earth.
To join the hundreds of local volunteers who make this food recovery at MCHPP possible, go to mchpp.org and click on “volunteer.” You can learn about their programs and the times and locations of different food pantry deliveries. Donations of time and money make this area-wide community possible, and you can have the satisfaction of helping people meet their basic and healthy food needs. Getting to know other volunteers and feeling useful are other benefits of joining the work teams at Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.
Please keep thinking in a circular manner before you throw anything out. Who could use those old clothes? A new Apparel Impact bin has been added in front of Ace Hardware in Bath for clothes and rags, the Topsham Transfer Station and Petco at Topsham Fair Mall Road. Take clean, undamaged books you don’t need to Twice Told Tales Bookstore at 200 Main St., Brunswick, or the bookstore on the corner of Front Street and Patten Library in Bath.
Start collecting food waste to put in layers with leaves, straw or crumpled paper in a slatted bin outside with rotating bins and collection cans available through Wayfair. If you want to reduce your waste volume but not manage a compost pile, and live in Bath or Brunswick, email firstname.lastname@example.org to join their weekly pickup in your neighborhood. You earn free compost and a free bucket, which is exchanged for a clean bucket each week when you subscribe to their composting program.
Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.
Read More: The Recycle Bin: Food salvage and recovery