BRUNSWICK — Several weeks later, I’m still struck by the intensity of the recent storm that left so many people in the Midcoast area without power. On that first dark Monday evening, I went to Hannaford with my daughter to pick up a few things – some bananas, lettuce and something else I can’t now remember. We did it more for the excursion than out of need.

It was an eerie sight to walk into a mostly dark store illuminated only by the blue emergency lights powered by the store’s generator. Once inside, we noticed that several of the produce cases were curtained off and others were being emptied by the store’s staff. It’s unfortunate that, in the case of an unplanned power outage like this one, much of this food can’t be salvaged due to strict food safety laws.

But, on a regular basis, very little of it goes to waste. In fact, it goes right across the street.

Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program has a unique partnership with Hannaford where they coordinate regular cycles of food shipments and expiration dates to minimize Hannaford’s food waste and maximize the number of people MCHPP can feed.

And, fortunately, during the outage, the generators at MCHPP allowed them to keep serving fresh meals in a warm place for those who needed it. Anyone can come in for a hot meal Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., no questions asked.

A dozen volunteers prepare and serve the food to an average of 150 people each day. In the days after the storm, the food pantry stayed open, as well, which meant that people could come through and select fresh items for their households, as well as a box of dry goods, bakery items and any toiletries that they might need.

Volunteers donate over 100 hours a week of their time, sorting and organizing over 700,000 pounds of food annually.

Despite all of the services offered at their in-town Brunswick location, Soup Kitchen Coordinator Holly Fenn noted that, “One of the biggest challenges for people in need of this food is transportation.” This is particularly true in the winter or, in this case, following a fall storm that blocked many roads. To assist with that, volunteers for MCHPP’s Pantry to Pantry Program, make twice monthly deliveries to clients who cannot travel to Brunswick.

More volunteers staff the monthly Food Mobile pantry truck, a partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is stationed at the Harpswell Town Office, 236 Mountain Road. The next one is scheduled for Nov. 30 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Anyone is welcome to bring their own bags or boxes and to select the items they need. To serve more people in remote locations and as the result of recent funding, MCHPP will soon be maintaining a second Food Mobile at another location.

And yet another way to get food directly to the people that need it is to tuck goodie bags packed full of dry goods into the backpacks of local students. A regular group of volunteers puts together these bags and delivers them to the schools each week as a part of MCHPP’s BackPack Program, which provides weekend food supplies for over 500 families in the Midcoast area.

This is just a snapshot of MCHPP’s regular programs. Then, there are the seasonal services.

In the summer, they partner with the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust to take care of the Common Good Garden. Volunteers plant, care and harvest organic produce in the 6,000-square-foot garden designated for the Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.

This year, they harvested over $2,000 of produce, including 500 pounds of carrots and 1,323 pounds of squash, not to mention additional veggies like onions, potatoes, beets, and herbs. In addition to this, there are regular donations from local farmers of items they cannot sell and that need to be put to good use. Making a meal to serve 150 people can use up a lot of produce quickly!

Another summer program is the Summer Food Service Program, which provides free meals to children and teens who would receive free lunch during the school year, but do not have ample food during the summer.

The seasonal services at this time of year are focused around the holidays, as you might imagine. In this week of Thanksgiving, MCHPP will be open all week, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day. Leading up to the holiday, they will be distributing Thanksgiving meal bags, which include turkeys from Hannaford. Hannaford is selling $10 Turkey Boxes that are delivered straight to MCHPP. All you have to do is buy one at Hannaford and they will take care of the rest. Similar preparations will be happening ahead of Christmas. And, MCHPP is open on both Christmas and New Year’s Days.

So, how are they able to provide all these services in addition to the generous donations of stores and farmers? If you’ve noticed the number of times I’ve used the word “volunteer,” it is for good reason. Over 1,000 volunteers donate their time every year. The programs couldn’t function without them.

There’s really something for everyone – whether it is packing backpack bags or dry goods boxes, cooking up a hot meal, or delivering food to those who can’t travel, there are many roles that need to be filled every day.

I have found that my six-year olds love packing boxes of dry goods, carefully selecting and arranging the right number of cans of beans or boxes of cereal in the banana boxes MCHPP uses to pack food for families as small as two to those as large as five, and even supplemental boxes for the biggest households.

And, I love cooking – working with a team in the kitchen, and watching people enjoy sitting down and enjoying a hot meal. The wonderful feedback brings me warmth in the chilly season. Or, you can keep it super simple and add a few items to your grocery list every week – either a turkey box this time of year or canned goods any time. MCHPP lists on its website the items they are most in need of.

To learn more about this incredible community resource – either how they might provide assistance to you or someone you know, or how you can help – visit www.mchpp.org or contact Volunteer Coordinator Hannah Arvidson at 725-2716 x305 or email [email protected].