Topic: Food Programs

Volunteer of the Month: Melodie

It’s been almost 10 years since Melodie Wilson started volunteering at Florence House to help serve upwards of 50 women a warm dinner every Wednesday evening. Florence House — a Housing First facility in Portland exclusively for women — opened just shy of a decade ago, with 15 semi-private living spaces, up to 25 emergency shelter beds, and 25 permanent furnished efficiency apartments for chronically homeless women.

“I began volunteering for Florence House after reading about its mission and partnership with L.L.Bean,” says Melodie, an L.L.Bean employee. “I thought it would be a great way to transition into ‘empty nesting’ while learning more about my community and its needs.”

When Florence House first opened, L.L.Bean helped procure many of the furnishings for the apartment units through donations from their home goods store. L.L.Bean was instrumental in making sure the women at Florence House had the comforts they needed to begin their life anew in safe, stable housing. Nearly a decade later, L.L.Bean continues to support Florence House and other Preble Street programs by encouraging its employees to volunteer — we are certainly grateful to have a seasoned veteran volunteer like Melodie!

Melodie helps prepare, serve, and clean up weekly dinners at Florence House. She chops, bakes, and ladles her way through delicious dishes while making the 50+ women who join for a hot meal smile and feel welcome. Florence House kitchen staff member Katherine nominated Melodie to be the volunteer of month saying, “Melodie is a breath of fresh air! She’s ready to do whatever needs to be done and is often one step ahead of me! She’s wonderful at interacting with clients — she exudes a warm, gentle presence everyone picks up on.”

While Melodie is quick to point to the gratitude and perseverance of the clients who live at Florence House as a major motivation for coming back, she is also incredibly generous and kind to the staff. “They’re passionate, and a caring beacon of hope for these women,” she notes. “But I’m often reminded that it’s tough work too, and it’s been nice to be a steady presence for them.’”

Thank you, Melodie, for providing stable support to both the clients and staff at Florence House. You are a wonderful sous-chef and we are so grateful for your many hours of service!

Volunteer of the Month: Kristin

At Preble Street, a wellspring of institutional knowledge lives and breathes in the form of volunteers. The Volunteer of the Month for August, Kristin Lindvall, has been volunteering at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen longer than many staff members have been working there. Her kindness towards staff and clients, her endless repertoire of delicious meals, and her voracious work ethic make Kristin one of the most integral and reliable Preble Street volunteers.

Many kitchen staff remember when she taught them how to use the industrial equipment for the first time. One says, “When I started working here, I knew how to cook, but it was Kristin who taught me how to make complicated and delicious meals for 250 people with the ever-changing and limited pantry options we have.”

Kristin’s approach to the people we serve is both empathetic and realistic—being familiar with many of the specific obstacles facing clients at Preble Street informs the work of all staff and volunteers. She is honest and realistic with individuals, and about the broader issues facing our society. Solutions to problems with housing, mental health, and food insecurity are always at the forefront of her mind, and she reminds us all to remain compassionate towards people who are struggling. “She knows many of our clients and treats everyone with dignity and respect,” says a coworker.

Kristin also reminds staff and volunteers to take care of themselves by modeling her own self care. She is excellent about communicating to staff when she needs to take a break. Kristin reminds us all that we cannot serve from an empty cup, and that taking time to take care of ourselves is just as important to our work as the chopping of veggies, the bagging of lunches, and the serving of meals.

As one staff member put it so beautifully, “Kristin is the glue that holds us all together.” Thank you, Kristin, for teaching us all to make delicious food, to lead with grace, and to take care of others by taking care of ourselves.

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

Volunteer of the Month: John

As the old adage goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. In mid-July, with ovens and stoves cranking to cook enough food for the 250+ people who join us for every meal, the Resource Center Soup Kitchen can get hot. But July’s Volunteer of the Month, John Reali, is no stranger to heat in the kitchen—John owned and operated the Village Café, a local favorite for decades on Newbury Street in Portland. Today, we are so lucky to have John preparing lunch for our neighbors three days a week at the Preble Street Resource Center Soup Kitchen, sharing his passion for good food, his infectious humor, and his gracious, humble approach to service.

John is the kind of volunteer who can do whatever is needed, whether it’s chopping a bunch of veggies or creating an entire meal from scratch.

But being good in the kitchen isn’t all it takes to be named a Preble Street Volunteer of the Month. Many can wield a knife or stir a pot, but not everyone can keep a cool head in a busy kitchen environment, especially in the heat of summer. Even in the most chaotic circumstances, John remains completely unflappable and entirely flexible. As one Food Programs staff person said, “I’m always impressed that he shows up to work fully present and engaged in what we are doing.”

An ever-present challenge at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen is the need to create a good, healthy meal out of the random ingredients donated to Preble Street. After running his own restaurant for so many years, John is “an ingenious master of cobbling together ingredients from a limited, ever-changing, and sometimes bizarre pantry of donated foods, successfully cooking meals that not only feed many, but are incredibly delicious,” said Philippa, a Food Programs staff member.

Yet John’s greatest gift, more than his steady hand or his creative approach to cooking, is the incredible balance he maintains between leadership and being lead. Many volunteers who join us in the soup kitchen every day have little to no experience cooking professionally—not even all our talented kitchen staff have John’s breadth and depth of knowledge. He gently directs volunteers of all ages and levels of experience while lending a hand to staff wherever is needed. He does it kindly, and he does it with a smile. “Every shift we work together is a different balance of how much he or I take the lead and he is fine with literally any amount or lack of leadership,” said Food Programs staff member Deena. “He’s humble and flexible.”

John is a leader and mentor to fellow volunteers, an invaluable resource of knowledge and accountability to staff, and a wonderful friend to all who cross his path. When asked what kind of food John would be, staff summed him up perfectly: “A perfectly seasoned tomato sauce, the backbone of a variety of meals… just like John!”

Thank you, John, for your compassion, flexibility, and perfectly seasoned sauces! We could not do it without you.

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

Curbside: News from Preble Street Spring 2017

The spring 2017 edition of Curbside: News from Preble Street hit homes this week. Did you receive a copy? If not, you can read it below, and sign up here for future issues.

Comprehensive Study of Hunger in Maine Reveals Persistent and Widespread Suffering  

As the Maine State Legislature begins considering budget proposals and bills aimed at further restricting the state’s safety net, a research study by Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank reveals that recent policy changes to food assistance programs have already intensified the suffering and hunger of many Mainers.

“Hunger exists in every town and city in Maine. Working families, seniors, veterans and children struggle with hunger on a daily basis and when safety net programs are cut, more and more people find themselves having to turn to food pantries to get by.  That’s not something we should be proud of and we can do better,” according to Willy Ritch, campaign director for A Place at the Table, a national anti-hunger campaign run by Washington-based Food Policy Action Education Fund, speaking at a press conference announcing the release of the study.

Maine ranks third in the nation for hunger.  And while hunger is decreasing nationally, Mainers continue to struggle to put food on their tables. Nearly 16 percent of Maine households, or more than 200,000 people, are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If I’m working as hard as I do, I want to have the right to survive and live instead of going hungry,” said a Hancock County man who participated in the research study.

Alarmed by the persistence of hunger in Maine and changes in the state’s administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that have resulted in thousands of people losing access to food assistance benefits, Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank enlisted Dr. Michael Hillard of the University of Southern Maine and Jean Bessette, doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire, to help them gain a clearer understanding of who is struggling in Maine and what challenges they face getting the food they need.

”The food pantry network is a vital lifeline for families and seniors across our state, but food pantries have been asked to do too much,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “With the Food Bank and food pantries feeding more than 15 percent of Maine’s households on an ongoing basis, that tells me we have a systemic problem on our hands.”

The organizations surveyed more than 2,000 people at food pantries across Maine, asking questions about household demographics, use of charitable food assistance, participation in SNAP, and employment.

Survey results show that recent policy changes to the food assistance program in Maine have deepened chronic food insecurity. Instead of providing assistance in an emergency, food pantries now serve as an ongoing means of survival for many.

“When we started Preble Street 41 years ago, Maine had only 40 food pantries total. Now there are at least 400. Every week hundreds of families line up for food at our pantry. But we wish they didn’t have to,” said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street.

In addition, the study found that:

  • 87 percent of households seeking assistance at hunger relief organizations include a child, a senior, and/or a person with a disability
  • 86 percent of respondents use a food pantry once a month or more
  • 59 percent of respondents are using the food pantry more this year than they did last

One in four respondents reported being dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the past year, due to policy changes in Maine that reduced eligibility, and when asked about the consequences, 86 percent described making difficult choices between paying for food and other necessities, such as healthcare and housing.

As Elton Thornhill, a U.S. Navy Veteran who was cut from the SNAP program explains, “The whole point of these benefits, after you have served your country, is to be able to rely on them. Then I find myself having to jump through hurdles to achieve them and it doesn’t work.”

In addition to presenting results from the research, Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank offer a series of policy recommendations that would help alleviate hunger in Maine.

Read the full report here, or the Executive Summary here.

Mainers Helping Mainers: A Preble Street Year in Review

Watch our Year in Review video, featuring some of the friends and neighbors who stepped up to make a difference in 2016!

Every day at Preble Street, the community comes together to help Mainers move forward to better lives, giving their time, their energy, their money, their voices, and their hearts.

Your donation to Preble Street does more than ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community make it through another day. Your support empowers brave, determined people to break the cycle of homelessness by finding work, studying hard, never giving up, learning new skills, finding their voices, reuniting with family, and reaching their goals.

Most of all it helps them hold on to hope during their darkest hours.

Please join us this year in growing our community of giving hands and grateful hearts.

Join us for the Longest Night of Homelessness!

Each year on the longest night of homelessness, Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, community leaders and concerned neighbors gather for the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil to remember our homeless friends who have died and recommit ourselves to the task of ending homelessness.

Join us on Wednesday, December 21, at 4 pm for a candlelight procession starting at the Preble Street Resource Center, and proceeding to Monument Square for a ceremony dedicated to those persons who have died in our community.

Help Rewind 100.9 Stuff the Bus for Preble Street!

It’s the season for giving, and Rewind 100.9 invites you to help Mainers in need. This year is the station’s 11th Annual Stuff the Bus Food Drive for Preble Street!

Now in our fifth decade, Preble Street operates three full-time kitchens and a food pantry to aid our fellow Portland-area residents who would otherwise go hungry.

Schools in Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough will be collecting non-perishable food items through November 21st, and then you can help stuff the big yellow Custom Coach & Limousine School Bus on November 22nd & 23rd at area Hannaford Stores.

  • Pasta and pasta sauce
  • Rice
  • Cooking oil
  • Coffee (caffeinated) and tea
  • Beans
  • Pancake mix and syrup
  • Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo)
  • Salad dressing
  • Canned tuna and meats
  • Mac & cheese
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Other canned goods
  • Juice

Cash donations are also greatly appreciated. Each dollar donated to Preble Street equals the buying power of an average of 7 pounds of food.

Stuff The Bus Locations and Times

November 22nd
7am to 7pm at the South Portland Hannaford (Maine Mall)

November 23rd
7am to 12pm at the Portland Hannaford (Back Cove)

Click here for a printable shopping list 

A Budding Baker Gives Back

Meet Madden Bilokonsky, master baker and kindhearted gentleman extraordinaire.

Madden’s dad, Vasyl, is one of Preble Street’s newest volunteers. He serves in the U.S. Navy, and recently arrived in Bath where he works as an electrician on the USS Zumwalt.

Vasyl and wife Courtney had hoped their older son could volunteer alongside his dad (the family also has a newborn). At only 4, though, Madden is just a bit shy of our 13-year age minimum.

Instead, a Preble Street staffer suggested he could bake some cookies for the soup kitchen. Madden loved the idea. He made them and Vasyl brought them when he came to volunteer on Sunday.

The cookies were fantastic, but not nearly as great as the baker’s smile!

Thanks, Bilokonsky family!

Learn more about volunteering and ways kids can help!

Preble Street to Change Dinner Service Hours

As we adjust to the change in season and with it colder weather, we continue to think about how to best meet clients’ needs.

In order to secure a bed and avoid sleeping in an uncomfortable office chair, people have begun lining up at the Oxford Street Shelter well before it opens at 6:00 pm. As a result, many of the people we see every day are currently forced to choose between a meal and a bed.

We never want to force anyone to decide between having either an empty stomach or nowhere to sleep at night, so we’re making some changes. Effective November 2, the dining room at the Preble Street Resource Center will be open for dinner service from 4:30-6:00 pm, an hour earlier than the current schedule.

As a result, the volunteer dinner shift will be 3:30 – 6:30 pm. We’ll be asking volunteers to arrive at 3:30 to help prepare dinner until 4:30, assist with service 4:30 – 6 pm, and clean up together until 6:30 pm.

We did not arrive at this decision lightly. We realize that not all volunteers will be able to make this change, and it will be incredibly difficult for us to say goodbye to some wonderful people, many of whom have been an integral part of our community for years or even decades. Ultimately, though, we are committed to best meeting the needs of our clients, and with that commitment must come openness to change.

We will not be adjusting our hours at our Florence House or Teen Center kitchens, as we do not face the same challenges at those two sites. We will have limited volunteer opportunities at those two kitchens, as well as some additional evening and weekend opportunities at the Resource Center.

Preble Street cannot operate without volunteers, and the work we do is more and more critical to our community every day. We appreciate your commitment, compassion, and understanding.