VAN BUREN – Dixie Shaw and Vicki Keaton, bundled up in gloves, sweat shirts and winter jackets, smiled and chatted with people Saturday. The two women didn’t show any signs of minding the 39-degree weather as they stood on Main Street and rounded up food for the needy of Aroostook County.
Their huge yellow truck parked near the Shur Fine Food Store, Shaw and Keaton were collecting non-perishable food as part of “Feed the County.” The bimonthly collection, which supplies 18 food pantries from Houlton to Fort Kent, is part of the Catholic Charities of Maine’s mission in Aroostook County.
“I’ve been at this for nearly 19 years,” Shaw said of her work with Catholic Charities Maine. “I’ve become a good beggar.”
Every other month, Shaw and friends travel to a different Aroostook County town. They advertise the visits on television, and take in donations of food, household supplies, furniture and money.
They also purchase supplies with monetary donations, grants and funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Every month, they distribute 18 pallets of food to Aroostook County households.
Last year Aroostook County’s 18 pantries supplied food to 21,000 people. In 2003, some 18,000 people were served around the northernmost Maine county. Many of the pantries are located in churches. Each month, volunteers drive to Caribou to pick up food for their local pantries.
Catholic Charities Maine also operates a store and warehouse on Washburn Road in Caribou where furniture and other donated materials are sold for a fraction of their value to help people in need.
This winter, Shaw expects, will be especially hard on the elderly. Some likely will have to make choices between buying food, fuel oil and medicine.
“The need for food in Aroostook increases each year, and we expect it will increase this winter,” Shaw remarked.
Shaw said she liked coming to Van Buren for the collections. Some local residents emerged from the Shur Fine Food Store with grocery bags ready to drop off while others arrived in vehicles with donated foodstuffs, cash and checks.
“Van Buren has always been one of our successes,” Shaw said. “These are very generous people.
“It never fails that someone even brings us coffee and soup,” she continued. “It seems that it is one of those towns that takes ownership in our project.”