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Sumner food bank looking to grow
GIVING BACK — Sumner Food Bank volunteers, from left, Steve Chesley, Vernon Bradeen, Earle Simpson, and Kate Chesley prepare a care package for a local family in need.
EAST SUMNER — Entering the back door of the Sumner Congregational Church and side-stepping a chest freezer reveals a small kitchen. This tiny area barely fits a table with five chairs, but it serves a dual purpose. In addition to being where members of the church prepare a meal for the community once a month, the floors, shelves and counters house supplies for the community food bank. The chest freezer by the entrance is also part of the food bank, as is an office around the corner where books line the top of a desk, while boxes and cans fill the shelves underneath.
It doesn't take a second glance to diagnose the problems that Sumner's only food bank is having.
"We've just run out of space," says volunteer and local resident Earle Simpson. "We're really crammed in here with the food. I have turned down food at times because, if we brought it in here, it would really make a mess."
This is further complicated by the frequency with which food arrives. The food bank receives donations from a variety of sources, including the local schools, members of the church, and town residents. However, the majority of the food comes from the US Department of Agriculture and the Rural Community Action Ministry. Many items are only restocked a few times a year, meaning the food bank has to keep enough in their small space to last several months.
"It only comes once a quarter," says Simpson, "So we've got to take it and stick it somewhere because it won't come again for another two or three months."
The food bank consistently serves four or five local families, but the volunteers are sure they could do more with greater space. They want to be able to engage the community further, making families more comfortable in using the resources available.
Right now, they believe the food bank is being under-utilized. If families want to visit the food bank, they contact Vernon Bradeen, an 89-year-old resident of Sumner who has lived there for 80 years. He believes that there are more people out there who could benefit from the food bank's services, especially given the current state of the economy.
"With the price of heating oil going up all the time, some people have to make the choice whether to stay warm or eat something," Bradeen says. "And that's a bad spot to be in."
"There are more people here who, if they knew we were open, would come," says Simpson. "So we're thinking of expanding our church, not for the church, but for the food bank." The extra space would allow them to accommodate people coming into the food bank at certain times rather than having to go through Bradeen. He wants to open the food bank two or four times a month and let people get what they need.
They would also like to expand the food bank's role in the community, making it a more welcoming environment in which people are comfortable coming for help. In addition to dinners they currently hold for the public once a month, they want to hold cooking classes where people can come in, prepare the food from the food bank together, and then take it home with them.
Volunteer Kate Chesley recently received her degree in architecture. She has drawn up plans for an addition to the food bank that would create more space for storage and holding community events. She believes that expanding the food bank, along with its role in the community, will encourage those who need it to come in.
"There's a certain amount of pride that says 'I'm taking care of myself, I don't need your help,'" she says. "So it's important that it's person-to-person help rather than handouts."
She, along with the rest of the volunteers, believe they are providing a necessary service to the community. With the plans drawn up, they will be seeking grant money and contributions to allow them to grow. They have a strong desire to give back and as much food as they need. Right now, all they need is a little more space.