The pantry is pictured here with an inset rendering of a proposed solar array designed by ReVision. Photo courtesy Journal Tribune .
The Biddeford Food Pantry - the oldest food pantry in Maine - is truly a community supported project. Everyone is invested in its success - from Stephen King, who purchased a big box truck for the Pantry, to the local students who created the mosaic tile sign in art class, to the dozens of volunteers who run the operation every week. There are no paid staff members, so all of the operations, financing, marketing, and maintenance is volunteer-driven.
Every month the Food Pantry serves around 600 families from the towns of Biddeford, Lymen, and Limington. Although they get donations from Hannafords, Target, and local food drives, they still spend close to $2400 a month on discounted food from Good Shepherd Food Bank. Annually, they serve over 200,000 pounds of food to residents in need. Hoping to cut other costs in order to devote more money to serving food, the Biddeford Food Pantry looked to their energy consumption.
"We want to decrease our carbon footprint, we want to lower our energy bills," said Don Bisson, volunteer President and Director of the Biddeford Food Pantry, who has been considering solar energy for a while. They took the first step in their solar journey this spring, converting all of their lighting to LED and reducing their electricity bill by an estimated $645 annually. The LED conversion also helped the atmosphere of the whole building. "It's really improved the lighting tremendously," added Bisson, "it's a lot brighter, especially in the warehouse."
Now they are looking to power those lights, as well as their refrigerators and freezers, with clean renewable energy generated from a rooftop solar array. This array would be made up of 28 panels and produce 10,500 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity every year. This would offset 11,056 pounds of carbon each year, and save the Pantry $49,895 over the 40-year lifespan of the system. "We're hoping that it will decrease our energy bill by thirty to forty percent, saving us a lot of money that can go to its intended purpose, which is purchasing food," Bisson explained. "It's green energy going toward our future, so we're keeping that in mind."
They've been inspired by their neighbors to the north. The Saco Food Pantry went solar in 2017 and have been very happy with the results. John Reynolds, Saco Food Pantry Board Member, said that their electric bills have been much lower since the installation. "We anticipate a significant savings on our electric bill (as much as half) that will allow us to purchase more food for our clients. We currently power 7 freezers (including a walk-in freezer) and 7 refrigeration units (also including a walk-in) - not to mention air conditioning, heat, and lighting." Reynolds continued, "While our primary motivation for doing this was the anticipated savings that we could use for our clients, we also believe that investing in renewable energy is so very important as we see the effects of climate change."
The Biddeford Food Pantry is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to raise money for their 9.10 kilowatt solar array. They've set up a GoFundMe page, reached out to local newspapers, and applied for grants. Bisson is confident that the community will rally around the Pantry once again. "It's a venture that will take time," said Bisson, "but it's worth the effort and time, and I'm hoping we can achieve this goal and get the solar panels."
If you'd like to donate to their cause, a fundraiser for their solar array is currently underway on GoFundMe - your contribution can make a big difference, whatever the amount!