Fire Guts Maine Island's Lone Store

A fire this week at the Swans Island General Store destroyed the Maine community's sole food source. Rev. Ken Dutille of Swans Island Baptist Church, says the church's Bread of Life Food Pantry will be seriously affected.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Swans Island general store burned to the ground last Sunday morning. Swans Island is six miles off the coast of Maine and it's home to 350 year-round residents and about a thousand summer people. The general store was the only place to buy food and supplies on the island. The Reverend Ken Dutille is pastor of the Swans Island Baptist Church. He is also director of the Bread of Life Food Pantry, and he joins us from his year-round home on Swans Island.

Reverend Dutille, thanks for being with us.

Reverend KEN DUTILLE (Swans Island Baptist Church): It's my pleasure, and thank you for having us.

SIMON: And tell us what this means to the island.

Rev. DUTILLE: Well, it's devastating because it's the only place where people could purchase their goods, their basic supplies and because the only way to get to our island is by ferry--we don't have a bridge that connects us to the mainland; it's very difficult. And so now with a lot of people--well, everyone needed to get off to get their basic supplies. It's really created a bottleneck.

SIMON: How many cars can the ferry hold?

Rev. DUTILLE: Seventeen...

SIMON: Oh.

Rev. DUTILLE: ...cars, and it's a little deceiving because most people here drive trucks because of the lobster industry that we have, so you have bait trucks, lobster trucks. Sometimes maybe six or eight, 10 cars can get on the ferry.

SIMON: So I mean, just judging from the outside, it sounds as if Swans Island residents are in the peculiar position of probably being able to eat a lobster for dinner night after night, but not having any bread or milk.

Rev. DUTILLE: Or any butter to soak it in.

SIMON: I won't even raise the possibility of a lemon.

Rev. DUTILLE: OK. That's right. And so it's a pro--I had a lady stop at the house yesterday, an older lady, and she was complaining because she had broken two toes a few days before that. Her husband's on oxygen, and they were running out of food, and they had been two days trying to get their car onto the ferry.

SIMON: Oh, my.

Rev. DUTILLE: Just--they would have to go down every time the ferry would come in, move the car ahead a little bit--here she is with two broken toes, her husband is on oxygen.

SIMON: Yeah.

Rev. DUTILLE: It's--really goes behind just an inconvenience. It's a crisis in so many people's lives.

SIMON: Now you run a food pantry that...

Rev. DUTILLE: Yes.

SIMON: ...presumably gives food to people who can't always afford to buy it, and now, I'm filling in the blanks here--you would not only be running short of food, but there are more people on the island who--maybe they can afford to buy the food, but they can't...

Rev. DUTILLE: That's right. Right.

SIMON: ...because they can't get on the ferry so...

Rev. DUTILLE: We're going to give the food to them for a, you know, temporary time. The people that own the store that burnt seems to think in maybe six months or so, you know, they can be up and running again. And we're hoping and we've said a prayer, too, and you know, we're in here for the long haul. We've got to figure out somehow, you know, how to help people, so that's what we're trying to do.

SIMON: Reverend Dutille, thanks very much.

Rev. DUTILLE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: The Reverend Ken Dutille of the Swans Island Baptist Church.

And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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