A volunteer prepares food at the First United Methodist Church in Bangor for those in need, Jan. 20, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

A coalition of Bangor-area houses of worship has made tackling food insecurity its top priority this year, as faith organizations that serve meals or supply food experience heightened demand that hasn’t waned during the pandemic.

“We dare to dream of a world in which hunger is unknown: where scarcity is an illusion, and everyone has a place at the table,” the Rev. Mariah Hayden, co-pastor of the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono, said in a prayer Sunday during a Zoom meeting of the group Faith Linking in Action.

Founded in 2012, the organization is made up of houses of worship and individuals who address societal issues from a faith perspective.

The group’s focus on food insecurity this year comes after churches that regularly served meals had to figure out how to distribute food differently during the pandemic. Some had to stop serving meals, but the heightened demand for food hasn’t waned, prompting the group’s focus.

First United Methodist Church in Bangor has served a free weekly meal on Thursdays since 2008. In 2020, it switched from an in-person gathering to take-out only.

Recently, the number of cars lined up on the Essex Street church’s circular drive has increased from 60 to 70 cars each week to 80 or 90 cars, Pastor Steve Smith said Sunday. The church also provides another 80 meals to the warming center at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter and homeless camps.

Meanwhile, other churches that offered monthly meals prior to the pandemic, including Hammond Street Congregational Church and First Congregational Church in Brewer, no longer offer free meals.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor and St. John’s Episcopal Church now offer take-out meals.

The United Church of Christ congregation on Hammond Street continues to operate the Bangor Ecumenical Food Cupboard, founded in 1975, out of its basement with the help of six other area churches.

Prior to the pandemic, 100 Bangor families each month accessed the food pantry, Rita Worster, who volunteers there, said Sunday.

When the pandemic hit, it opened its doors to anyone regardless of where they lived. Currently, the food cupboard is seeing between 375 and 500 families seeking food assistance each month, Worster said.

More than 20 people took part in Sunday’s meeting that drew representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities of Greater Bangor.

An initial step toward reaching that goal will be for the group to act as a clearinghouse for current information about when and where free meals are offered and when food pantries are operating and where they are located.

Nearly 10 years ago, Faith Linking in Action agreed it would focus its efforts in four areas — child care, food access, home insecurity and public transportation. In 2015, the organization joined with the Brewer organization Food AND Medicine to promote ridership on the Community Connector during the month of November. Members will continue to work on those issues while the organization emphasizes access to food.

“We really are called to join this fight because of what our faith teaches each and everyone of us,” Peg Olson, chairperson of the group’s board said Sunday.