News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 28, 2013 and The Weekly Packet, February 28, 2013
Tree of Life asks taxpayers for help at town meetings

Tree of Life food pantry

This year, the Tree of Life food pantry is requesting more funds from local towns to keep feeding families in need. Pictured here is volunteer Linda Slavin breaking thawed chicken into family packs in 2011 at Tree of Life.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

For the first time in its 26 years, the Tree of Life food pantry has asked the boards of selectmen in eight area towns to place an appropriation request on town meeting warrants.

General Manager Rusty Roberts sent letters to the selectmen of Castine, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Orland, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry, with signed petitions, as required, for Surry and Blue Hill.

The reason, said volunteer Rick Traub, is increased use of the pantry and higher food cost.

“Comparing 2011 to 2012, the number of residents coming to the pantry increased 11 percent,” Traub wrote in a recent email, an average of five new families per week.

In addition, less stock has been available from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which means higher food costs.

However, that situation is changing, said Roberts, which should ease the pantry’s financial crunch. She sees this year’s appeal to the towns as a one-time occurrence.

“Our goal is to get self sufficient again,” she said. “We don’t want to come back.”

Each town is being asked to contribute the cost of a month’s worth of food, based on the number of its residents who use the food pantry.

The requested amounts range from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. The total amount requested is $14,895, or about 5 percent of the annual cost of running the food pantry.

The largest request—$6,000—was made to Blue Hill, based on the 533 adults and children who received weekly assistance from the food pantry between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012, at a total cost of $81,176.

In Penobscot, the food pantry’s request for $1,175 is on the warrant, with the Finance Committee’s recommendation to fund the full amount. However, with only so many tax dollars to spend, the committee lowered its recommendation for the Blue Hill Library appropriation by about the same amount, said Finance Committee Chairman Nick Henry.

Surry voters will also have the opportunity to vote on the Tree of Life’s request, which is $1,400, as will Brooklin voters for a $1,850 request. In Brooksville, $460 is requested, but The Weekly Packet was unable to confirm by press time if it will be a warrant item. Selectmen for Castine and Orland have not yet set their warrant articles. Requests for those towns are $120 and $1,050, respectively.

A $2,900 request didn’t make it onto the 2013 warrant in Sedgwick. Town Clerk Cindy Reilly said the omission was not deliberate.

“If it didn’t get on the warrant, it means we didn’t get the letter,” she said. “The selectmen don’t make [those] decisions; they put them to the budget committee.” She explained further that all requests to the selectmen are included on the warrant as a matter of course, with the budget committee’s recommendation. “The Tree of Life was not singled out. It is regrettable.”

Food pantry tax documents for 2010, the latest obtainable, list $173,390 of total expenses against revenue of $172,171, of which $112,715 was program service revenue—or sales from the Turn-Style clothing store, which is operated solely to support the food pantry. Contributions, gifts and grants contributed $56,841, and $1,272 came from investment income. Net assets at the end of 2010 are listed as $392,330, with building and land accounting for $296,045, equipment for $15,112 and savings of $81,173.

But by the end of 2012, those savings had been cut in half, said Roberts. “That’s why we’re asking for help.”