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BLUE HILL, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- A community wide food drive is bringing food banks in Hancock County together to end hunger. The third annual Hancock County Food Drive is collecting donations to distribute to local food pantries in the county until March 31st. This year's goal is to collect at least 15 thousand food items.

"Forty Four percent of the kids in Hancock County last year qualified for reduced lunches at the schools, and that's a really scary statistic. So they're getting meals at schools but they're not getting meals at home, necessarily," said Susan Farley, Family Assistance Advocate for Washington Hancock Community Agency and one of the organizers of the Hancock County Food Drive.

The Tree of Life Food Pantry is one of several food pantries that will benefit this year's Hancock County Food Drive. Every Thursday between nine and three, an average of 200 people will come through the doors looking for assistance, something that's often difficult to ask for for people who never expected to have to come there.

"The first ones that come in are very embarrassed, or they feel that it's very hard to come in there, most of them," said community member, Lloyd Roberts.

"When I see those people come in here like that, I know how they feel, you know? They don't want to be here any more than I wanted to come through that door," said Wally Horton.

Horton knows what it's like to come to the pantry as a struggling individual.

"Well, originally I came here in need. Quite a few years ago, life came apart for me, everything, all the way around, and I ended up here in need. I felt like after a while perhaps I ought to try to return some of the favors I got," he said.

Now Horton has been a volunteer at the pantry for the past eight years. He says if the food pantry were to disappear, the affect would be devastating.

"That would have a horrible affect on this community. Hunger and food deprivation causes more crime- people are going to steal if they can't get food, people are desperate enough at times," said Horton.

"I'm pretty sure that whatever hard times people are falling on right now, it would probably double or triple," said pantry volunteer, David Guarente.

The volunteers at Tree of Life encourage their patrons that their need to ask for assistance is only temporary, but they can come as long as they need to, and to never lose hope.

"Help yourself, get what you need and continue on and do the best you can and life comes back after a while. It has for me," said Horton.

The United Way of Eastern Maine and the Maine Community Foundation have pledged to match $1 for every food donation collected-- up to ten $10 thousand.

With only four more days to donate to the Hancock County Food Drive, you can help by donating food products to your local pantries and drop off sites. Monetary donations are also accepted.

To donate or for more information, go to www.unitedwayem.org and click "donate now."

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