The early-morning lines that form outside of the the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program's (MCHPP) food pantry in Brunswick an hour and a half before it opens are longer than ever.

When the doors open, the clients (as the food pantry staff respectfully refer to the patrons) file in and wait for a consultation that determines whether or not they are eligible for the free provisions. The clients are split between heads of families and individuals, but many are unemployed or have recently been laid off. The food pantry almost always accepts everyone, and rarely are clients turned away because their income is too high. Food pantry Director Pam Gryspeerd tries to "look for any way we can make them qualify," occasionally "breaking rules for the right reasons." Every client still goes through the process of consultation, however, a process in which an administrator reviews their salaries, employment status, food stamp eligibility and other socioeconomic factors. If they qualify, they enter the kitchen where volunteers fill a box with bread, meat, fruit, vegetables and dessert items. Clients can return for food every two weeks, and receive non-perishable items like cereal and canned goods once a month.

Gryspeerd has seen her clientele increase gradually every year, but between 2007 and 2008 the number of households served at the food pantry jumped by 21 percent, an increase reflected in the wait outside the pantry each morning. Last year, the pantry provided provisions to 1055 households, up from only 871 in 2007.

What is most distressing to Executive Assistant Gina Vickus is not the higher number of clients, but that 362 of them were "new people who have never been in need before" instead of previous clients who had frequented the pantry. Within the overall increase in households served, the amount of new clients has also increased to 36 percent in 2008 from 27 percent the year before. What this means is that more people are unable to meet their families' basic needs, putting additional strain on an organization that has not seen a comparable increase in food or monetary donations.

Gryspeerd admitted that the food bank, the part of MCHPP that processes donations, has received "a little less" recently than in years past. She attributes this to local stores stocking less food, and consequentially not producing as much waste. Bowdoin has remained one of the pantry's most constant donors, delivering excess prepared dishes, Polar Express sandwiches and baked goods daily. Senior Ian Yaffe, who organizes the donations, said that about 3,000 pounds of food were donated to the pantry in Fall 2007, the last time a full semester of data was recorded.

"We miss [Bowdoin's donations] in the summer time," Gryspeerd said.

In order to make the available food last, the pantry tries to distribute fresh produce and other perishables quickly. When the Orient visited the pantry, volunteers encouraged clients to take strawberries, tomatoes, zucchinis and mushrooms so that they would not spoil. When the pantry receives unfamiliar items, like cherimoya for example, a volunteer will look up a recipe, prepare a dish with the food and encourage clients to try it for themselves. According to Gryspeerd, the sampling increases the likeliness that clients will take the unfamiliar foods home, ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

The food provided at the pantry is not intended to tide-over its clients, but rather to supplement their food budget and economize their food stamps. Volunteers encourage clients to use their food stamps on items they cannot get at the pantry, such as milk and butter.

The MCHPP food bank divides donations between the food pantry where clients receive boxes of produce, meat, canned food and pastries, and the soup kitchen, where a "hot, healthy sit-down meal" is served every day. Unlike at the food pantry, the soup kitchen has a "no questions asked" policy, meaning people of all income levels and employment statuses are welcome. The number of people eating at the soup kitchen each day has not increased dramatically in recent years as is the case with the pantry. Traditionally, senior citizens have made up a third of clients at the soup kitchen, but in 2008 that percentage dropped to a quarter. This statistic suggests that a larger percentage of clients are families and non-seniors who have been affected by the economy.

Even if soup kitchen visits did increase, no one would ever wait in line to be served as at the food pantry. Volunteers wait tables and ask clients if they would prefer coffee or tea. According to Gryspeerd, the restaurant-style service is far superior to a cafeteria because it increases morale among both clients and volunteers.

"We care enough about people that we can serve them," Gryspeerd said.