Serving rural needs for 50 years

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United Methodist Economic Ministry Thrift Shop Assistant Manda Viles shows a few donations made to the Toy Shoppe in Salem. Parents and guardians who are facing financial struggles will be able to choose gifts for their children in time for the holidays. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

SALEM — The United Methodist Economic Ministry has served rural families in need since 1969. Whether providing food assistance, emergency heating fuel, school supplies or home repairs, UMEM supports a growing and varied population of underserved individuals.

Operations Assistant Yvonne Woodcock has worked at UMEM for 13 years. The main focus of her duties is overseeing the food cupboard.

“When I first started, the food cupboard served mostly single parents and the elderly,” Woodcock said. “Now we have people of every age and background. Some are working two or three jobs but it is just not enough to make ends meet.”

The pantry focuses on serving the people of Carrabassett Valley, Kingfield, Salem, Freeman and Strong. Those boundaries are not set in stone, said Woodcock.

“It doesn’t matter what town someone comes from, the food pantry is not going to turn anyone away,” she added.

The goal is to give families three to four days worth of nutritional food once a month. Woodcock stated some families come once and some, for a variety of reasons, regularly rely on the food pantry.

The pantry relies on donations from local churches, organizations and businesses to fill the shelves. Some donate food, others make monetary donations.

Woodcock explained that cash donations are used to purchase items at the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn. “At Good Shepherd, $1 turns into $4. That allows us to get more food with each donated dollar,” she stated.

United Methodist Economic Ministry volunteer ‘Aunt’ Kathy Hewey and Operations Assistant Yvonne Woodcock man the window of the food pantry in Salem. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

The pantry also takes part in Feeding America. This program allows food pantries to pick up weekly donations of bakery, produce, meat and dairy items from Hannaford.

“You might not think it but hunger insecurity is a big problem. People are not aware of it because they don’t see it. You don’t see poverty on Main Street,” stated Woodcock.

With the help of other organizations and individuals, UMEM supports families during the holidays. They provide ingredients for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. They open a Christmas Shop to  MSAD #58 area families with children under the age of 13. This is a place for parents and guardians to select gifts free of charge for children.

“We are really in need of gifts for boys,” said Thrift Shop Assistant Manda Viles. “We have half as many boy gifts as we do items for girls.”

There will also be a gift shop with items available for adults.

UMEM is supported, in part, by an expansive low-cost thrift store. The store features gently-used clothing for the entire family. Most items a priced under $3 and some clothing items can be found for as little as a quarter.

The rotating stock also includes household goods, furniture, books and jewelry.

The ministry relies on many volunteers to help with everything from building maintenance to outreach. Woodcock said there was a core group of about two dozen volunteers. There are many more people who might help out occasionally or even once.

Kathy Hewey of Kingfield is an 83-year old retiree. She has dedicated about 150 hours a month to the ministry for the last 12 years.  “I thought it would be nice to sit at home and do nothing when I retired from the mill. It wasn’t nice at all,” explained Hewey.

UMEM is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. A new logo and website, www.umeconomicministry.com, were recently unveiled to kick off the celebration.

“Ongoing events will be held throughout the year,” said Viles. “Details will be posted to the website once they are finalized.”

UMEM is located at 1458 Salem Rd. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The food pantry is open 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

For more information about programs and services offered, to learn about volunteer opportunities, or to make a monetary or food donation call 678-2611.

dmenear@thefranklinjournal.com

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