Lakes Region (Maine) Food Security Sub Committee Meetings

Last week I was invited to sit in on a discussion around cooperative purchasing among the food pantries in the Lakes Region of Cumberland County, Maine.  The invitation came from a gentlemen I work with here in Portland on the Mayor’s Initiative for Healthy Sustainable Food Systems (a.k.a. Portland Food Council).  He is a United Way employee at this time, and he shared his interest about’s potential to help the Good Shepherd Food Bank purchase as a group.

So what does it mean for the Buying Club concept to become important for a food rescue and pantry operation?

To start, the food bank itself is a support mechanism for getting food to these pantries and in to people’s homes.  Picking it up where it is donated and ultimately delivering it to the food pantry where people come for whatever they have to offer.

To cut costs and make life easier for people who are often volunteers running food pantries, the idea was that would make it easy enough for average people to make purchases on behalf of their pantries and that someone at the central location of Good Shepard could easily organize and place the order, receive the deliveries, split everything up according to location, and then put it on trucks and deliver the orders to the pantries.

Funny… this sounds a lot like what happens in a huge warehouse on the corporate level.  I like to think we are part of the folks who “level the playing field”, and this is a great example of what we mean. 🙂

Each pantry can go in to the system and separately make purchases for the pantry on their own schedule.  When it’s time to place the order, the coordinator goes in, exports the order and sends it in to whoever they are buying from.  It saves time and energy, and ultimately saves them money on food by purchasing in bulk and using the facilities they have for distribution. Brilliant!

A big part of this is the ability to program with whatever products you want.  So they can plug in larger items like rice or other things from outside of Maine, as well as items from local farmers.  Ultimately, they are working towards supporting a more local and healthy food system. Awesome!

Earlier in the day they spoke about education which ended in the pantry volunteers considering starting buying clubs within their own pantries.  We got really excited by the idea that each pantry could place a group order, and then that order can piggy-back on top of the larger order being made by the food bank.  If you draw it on a piece of paper, it is a pyramid that has 3 levels, and at the top is the main purchase of the food bank.

Collecting this kind of buying power in this way is nothing short of amazing.  When we started working with Buying Clubs, this is a piece of the food system we never even thought of, and it could be helping the most by providing a better economic model to people who need it most.

This is one of many awesome food system stories we can tell.  If you have a good story about collective purchasing or think could apply in other areas, please let us know.

Thanks for reading!

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