Harvest Food Pantry loses donor, faces closure
GOFFSTOWN — The Harvest Food Pantry in Pinardville will have to close its doors, unless it can receive regular food donations from local stores or move into a rent-free facility.
For several years, Hannaford Supermarkets has donated vegetables, meats, breads and pastries to the pantry, but the grocery chain’s parent company, Delhaize America, has partnered with the Feeding America network, which includes the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester. Hannaford said the pantry can join the food bank as a registered agency and continue receiving products.
“Hannaford has been a real, real blessing. Meat is very important to families, the chicken, steak and pork chops, but now we’ve lost that,” said Gerry St. Jean, who directs the Harvest Food Pantry.
To become a registered agency, St. Jean said the pantry would be required to give all food away for free, and pay a maintenance fee.
The Harvest Food Pantry has been operating for 12 years — first at the Goffstown Harvest Christian Church, where it outgrew its space, and for the past five years at a rented facility at 711 Mast Road. The food pantry does not receive monetary support from the church.
“We ask people to spend at least $10 to help us pay for rent, electricity and gas. If they don’t have the money, I give them the food. About 85 percent of the people spend $25 to $30 because we have so many deals and they want to stock up,” said St. Jean.
St. Jean also buys discounted groceries from stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Pastries and breads donated by JJ Nissen and Freihofer Bakery Outlets and Panera Bread, and all beverages from Pepsi are given to patrons free of charge.
He said it costs the pantry about $4,000 a month to cover rent, electricity and gas for the pantry’s old delivery truck, plus about $1,000 for food.
In January, St. Jean received a letter from Sherri Stevens, Hannaford’s community relations specialist in Maine, about its decision to coordinate donations through food banks and establishing a reporting system.
Bruce Wilson, director of operations with the N.H. Food Bank, said the reporting system does not require the names and/or addresses of people served by its agencies.
“Our requirements are a food pantry has to be a nonprofit. We have to make sure clients are in need. We track the number of adults, children and seniors, and ensure quality of service and food safety,” Wilson said.
According to the food bank’s policy, an agency is not permitted to pass on the 5 to 18 cents per pound shared maintenance fee or charge any amount for meals. Agencies can accept donations, but not as payment for food.
He said Hannaford is trying to coordinate all its resources through Feeding America to provide accuracy of food distribution, and efficient handling of any food recalls.
But, St. Jean said joining the food bank will force the pantry to close.
For Karen H. of Goffstown, the Harvest Food Pantry provides her family with more than $300 worth of groceries per week. On May 24, she spent $25 and received four cardboard boxes full of breads, vegetables, meats and pastries to feed her family.
“It’s been a savior for my family. After paying $200 for insurance, $40 for dental and paying taxes, there’s not a lot left in my paycheck for groceries. My kids have never eaten so many vegetables in their lives.”
St. Jean said has looked for people to help write grants for the pantry, but their services are not free of charge.
He is hoping for a good Samaritan to help keep the pantry open.
“If someone would bless us and say you could use a building free or give us a better truck, that would be great,” he said.
Eric Blom, of Hannaford’s Maine office, said the company knows the importance of providing food to its communities, and it strives to coordinate efforts to ensure people do not go hungry and food does not go to waste.