Franklin Countys First News

Thrifty Beaver food pantry thrives with help from community

AJ Saulnier and Lucas Kellett at the Thrifty Beaver.

FARMINGTON - With finals in full swing and a four-week break looming, some students at the University of Maine at Farmington are preparing to face an ongoing, often unseen challenge: finding a meal.

Hunger among college students isn't a topic that gets a lot of spotlight. Between stereotypes such as the "freshman 15" and meal plans that are often required for campus living, it's easy to assume students are well-fed. But that isn't what UMF sophomore AJ Saulnier is seeing.

Saulnier is a volunteer at UMF's thrift store/food pantry: the Thrifty Beaver. She works several shifts a week, helping to manage the distribution of food and other items to students in need. The Thrifty Beaver offers fully stocked shelves of non-perishable food items, as well as second hand clothes, new toiletries and a library of cooking tools like crock pots and blenders.

"I don't ask students why they're here. I just ask how their day is going or how they're doing," Saulnier said.

The pantry has recorded 400 student accounts since opening two years ago and estimates serving 15-25 students each week. There are no requirements to access the items, and the pantry boasts a strict "no cash" policy- as in, they don't want any money.

UMF Sustainability Coordinator Lucas Kellett said the system is working well without any money involved. The thrift store section of the Thrifty Beaver works on a trade basis, while accounts are used for the kitchen tool library and food from the pantry can "bought" using points- up to 10 each week. Some items are worth a full point, while others, such as a granola bar, are worth only half or a quarter of a point.

"Sometimes students just don't have enough money to buy food, or they're just looking for a little more predictability with meals. They might not have a lot of money, but with the Thrifty Beaver they know they'll always have a meal," Saulnier said.

The pantry works hard to keep their doors open for at least several shifts year round. Kellett said vacations and "shoulder seasons" are particularly tough on students who deal with food insecurity. For students who live on campus, dorms and dining halls close during vacations and not all students have places to go.

The pantry runs completely on volunteer hours and keeps their shelves stocked with donations and occasional grant money. Right now the University Credit Union is running the Ending Hunger on Campus campaign, matching up to $25,000 of donations for eight campus pantries throughout the state. Donations can be made online through UCU’s website, or by stopping by or mailing a check to any UCU branch. Donors may elect to specify a campus food pantry of their choosing; any donations not designated as such will be distributed to the eight pantries.

Originally starting as solely a thrift store, the Thrifty Beaver expanded in 2016 with the help of student Catherine Dufault. Dufault initiated the addition of the pantry to create a space where people feel comfortable about asking for help. Saulnier, Kellett and other organizers have kept that intention alive and said they are excited to see what will happen in the next several years.

"I don't want people to have to worry if they're in a crunch," Saulnier said. "It's amazing to see that even people who need the stuff here are willing to help. If you know what it's like to be in need, you want to help others."

The Thrifty Beaver is located in the basement of the Computer Center/ Tech Commons room 004. Non-perishable food items can be donated on site, at the Mantor Library, the Sustainable Campus Coalition office in the Student Center and the Spenciner Curriculum Center.

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4 Responses »

  1. College is tough on some students....physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. What a great way to help out those in need!!

  2. This is a very strange article.

  3. So many good people in the world.

  4. Students helping students, what’s so strange about that, Bill?

    Also, didn’t realize Catherine was a founder, great work! Proud to know you!