Tree of Life seeks donations to buy produce

From the Ellsworth American, April 7, 2017

BLUE HILL — Last year the Tree of Life Food Pantry distributed 12,000 pounds of fresh produce to hungry families. The fresh food was purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank and directly from local farms with the help of a grant from Maine Farmland Trust.  tree-of-life-produce

Donations of fresh produce were also made by local farmers and gardeners, local businesses and gleaners.

This year the Tree of Life no longer qualifies for the Maine Farmland Trust grant, and so the organization is seeking individual donors willing to give money dedicated to buying local vegetables, said Tree of Life President Judi Hilliker.

“We want to continue and hopefully expand our fresh produce program and local donations would make a big difference,” she said.

Fresh produce donation forms will be available at local farm stands and farmers markets. Donations may also be made at

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to improve health and combat problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

However, because it is expensive and perishable, fresh produce is often out of reach for many low-income families, said Hilliker. In the past, food pantry shelves were stocked entirely with canned goods and other inexpensive shelf-stable foods such as cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta, rice and beans. Although the Tree of Life still offers some of those products, the organization is working to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy, she explained.

“The food pantry now offers potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bananas and apples every week,” Hilliker said. “We offer greens like kale and chard, squash, beets, turnips, peppers, cabbage and other seasonal vegetables as available. Tasting samples and recipes help our pantry patrons use these fresh, and sometimes unfamiliar, foods.”

The food pantry also encourages people to grow some of their own fresh food by giving out seeds and bedding plants in the spring. The 2016 home gardening projects were made possible with seed packet donations from local businesses, a grant from the Brooklin Garden Club and seedlings from the Blue Hill Farming Artists. A similar gardening program is planned for this spring.

For the past three years grants from Maine Farmland Trust enabled the food pantry to purchase produce from local farms. In 2016, thanks to this grant money and additional donations, $10,344 was spent buying local produce. Local providers included Horsepower Farm, King Hill Farm, Old Ackley Farm, Misty Morning Farm and North Branch Farm.

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Cash Mob raises money for TOL


Loyal Turnstyle customers organized a Cash Mob for Tuesday January 17, 2017 to support the Tree of Life after the thrift shop was broken into on the 12th.  Traffic was high with lots of people dropping off used clothes, buying items, and making direct donations.

TOL Board President, Judi Hilliker reports: “It worked! Our sales total for the day was $1,341.00. Our donation total for the day was $687.50. Pretty amazing.

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Furnace Malfunction Closes Tree of Life Temporarily

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 11, 2016
by Faith DeAmbrose

The Tree of Life food pantry and its sister organization, The TurnStyle, will be closed until further notice due to a furnace malfunction that filled the building with heavy, noxious fumes.

According to Tree of Life volunteer Peggy Hopkins, the damage was found Tuesday, February 9, when people entered the building to put away a food delivery.

She said the organization’s insurance agent has been called and all are working to get back up and running as soon as possible, but the food pantry will definitely be closed for its regular day on Thursday, February 11. Both businesses will remain closed until they can be thoroughly and professionally cleaned. There was no physical damage to the buildings.

The top priority will be to reopen the food pantry, which feeds up to 300 families a week, said Hopkins, but she could not say whether the closure would extend more than the one week.

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Hunger in Hancock County

Hunger in Hancock County
By Judith Hilliker, Tree of Life Pantry Board President
published in the letters section of the Daily Packet

A recent Feeding America study found that 15.6 percent of the people living in Hancock County struggle with food insecurity. The Tree of Life food pantry addresses that problem by giving over 6,000 pounds of supplemental food a week to local families in need. The majority of the food we distribute is purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank, but we also use grant money to buy fresh produce from local farms and we buy eggs, milk and other food items from retailers. Many local farms, greenhouses, businesses and individuals also bring us generous donations. Over the past few years the food pantry has been working to provide more nutritious fresh food to our pantry users. Studies show that the problem of hunger in Maine is not access to calories but lack of access to nutritious food. People with limited means often purchase high-calorie, low-nutrient food because it is inexpensive. This can lead to chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein cost more money. At Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Tree of Life we are trying to provide higher quality food. Every Thursday we now have fresh milk, eggs, onions, potatoes, carrots, winter squash, apples, bananas, and fresh produce from local farms. We provide recipes and tasting samples to help people learn to use fresh vegetables and alternative protein sources. On our shelves we still have canned tuna, peanut butter, dried and canned beans, low salt canned vegetables, flour, cornmeal and other baking supplies, shelf stable box milk, brown rice, pastas, canned tomato products, box cereal, oats, and bread products. Some items that we used to buy from Good Shepherd, such as canned beef stew, deviled ham, jelly, fruit in sugar syrup and high salt soups, are no longer available. The food pantry is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We provide supplemental food to about 200 families every week. Anyone who is in need is welcome at the pantry. Our registration process is simple and pantry users choose the food items that their family will eat using our quantity guidelines. We are proud of our organization and welcome you to come and see us in operation. Early Thursday mornings are very busy but, if you come any time between 11 and 3, a pantry volunteer would be happy to give you a tour.

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Tradewinds matches $10,000 in customer donations

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 29, 2015

Article and photos by Tevlin Schuetz


All were smiles on Wednesday morning, January 21, at TradeWinds Market Place, as representatives of the Tree of Life food pantry accepted a donation of money from TradeWinds owners Chuck and Belinda Lawrence.

The funds totaled $20,213 and were composed of store patrons’ contributions—garnered during TradeWinds’ holiday fundraiser—matched dollar-for-dollar by the Lawrences.

The Lawrences were joined on January 21 by TradeWinds Manager Bonnie Tokas and TOL outgoing President Rick Traub and incoming President Judi Hilliker, food pantry Manager Deb Case, TOL board member Betsy Bott and Turn-Style Manager Gene Grindle.

The occasion not only commemorated this season’s donation, but it also further cements a relationship between the two neighbors on South Street; the Lawrences have similarly matched TradeWinds’ customers’ donations to TOL for the past several years, according to a press release from TOL.

As Traub stated, “We are astounded by the large amount of this gift and want to thank all of the shoppers who donated as well as the Lawrences.”

TOL can use the funds. The number of families visiting the pantry is up, and Traub stated that 21 new families came in for food two weeks ago. This is a notable jump, versus the average of five new families visiting the pantry each week in 2014.

According to a document shared by TOL—called the “State of the Tree Report”—the total number of family visits to the pantry in 2014 came to 10,904, representing a 6 percent increase over that total in 2013.

TOL has grown its operation to meet the needs of Peninsula residents since its founding 26 years ago.

Turn-Style thrift shop sales accounted for 58 percent of the money raised for food in 2014, and TOL continues to broaden its local supplier base for organic produce, to augment the thousands of pounds of produce it receives from Good Shepherd Food Bank.

For more information or to make a donation call the food pantry at 374-2900 or the thrift shop at 374-9181.

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