AIO Food Pantry goes green

Tue, 10/05/2021 - 10:00am

The AIO Food Pantry, in Rockland, has flipped the switch to sustainable energy with the installation of 100 solar panels. As Joe Ryan, the executive director said; “Our solar project is a continuation of our founding mission that goes back over 30 years. We are be a demonstration of what we can do as a community and the solar project is a high visibility example, just as our gardens are. We are about more than food and energy assistance, we are making a positive difference in the community.”

AIO makes a positive difference to over 450 families each month. It serves an additional 310 families with their weekend meals program. It sends food to Vinylhaven and support other pantries all over Knox county. From the new facility, the nonprofit distribute nearly eight times more food then when operating from their previous facility.

The food is funded by donations from citizens, local farms, grants, and weekly pickups from Hannafords, Shaw's and Walmart.

The push for the new building was led by former board president Liz Jenkins. She recognized the bottlenecks when working out of the old building and envisioned a new facility that would efficiently serve multiples of people. She began a campaign to raise money for the new facility. In Zander Shaw (Z Shaw Architecture), a Rockland resident, she found her architect.

Zander had a long interest in community, food insecurity, and energy. Zander designed the new building for maximum energy efficiency. He designed the roof for solar, hoping it would be installed some day.

Solar power was part of the design, but was not included in the phase-one fundraising. The priority was getting the doors open and getting the food out. But in the process of fundraising, an anonymous donor offered a generous donation to support the solar part of the project. By going to other donors who had expressed an interest in the solar aspect, the AIO was able to raise the 60K+ needed to install the solar panels.

Raising the money, finalizing the design, getting the solar installed and flipping the switch took less than a year. Joe Ryan describes working with Sundog Solar: “Danny Piper, the owner of Sundog Solar, was very informative in what was a foreign language to me. I completely trusted Sundog to lead us in the right direction. Once we got past the approval process, it took just one week to get everything installed. The facility stayed open while the work progressed. Members of the SunDog Solar crew even brought food donations to the pantry.”

The system is connected to the grid and produces about 23KW of AC. The panels power four walk in refrigerators as well as the lights, heat pumps and office equipment. The roof puts out enough power for about five residential homes. It will pay for itself in about 6 years, and then the electricity generated will be free.

To get a sense for the power output of a solar panel, imagine a Tour de France cyclist. A pro cyclist generates about 250 to 300 watts of power. A single panel generates 315 watts of power, rough equivalents. So, it's reasonable to see the AIO as having one hundred pro cyclists up on the roof, pedaling like mad, each rider burning up 8,500 calories a day. They would descend on the food bank at night and...!

“We have this facility that has changed how people perceive food pantries,” said Ryan. “We are setting the pace for other food assistance pantries across the country. People don't sneak in, get a little food, and sneak out. We are operating in broad daylight with a bright, innovative, welcoming, and dignified experience.

Shawn McCarty lives in Rockland and is a member of the Rockland Solar Club; rocklandsolarclub@gmail.com