Allison Brooks has seen the world and found the value of home in Jefferson, where she now invests in the future with some motivation from an act of kindness by another in her past.
“Everything I do is about making a better world and community for my children. I want them to see what I’m doing,” she said. “You can tell people whatever you want, but you can show people better, and that’s everything I’m doing here.”
Born in Japan to a military family, she spent much of her early life in the American South. In the sixth grade, the family moved to the Jefferson area, where her parents were from. Brooks said she lost her Southern accent quickly upon moving to Maine.
“My mom was all about coming home, which I get now,” she said.
Growing up, Brooks was a talented artist and a fast reader, consuming the entire Jefferson Village School library at a rate of 10-15 books per weekend.
“You could go somewhere else. You’re on an adventure,” she said. “You could become someone else any time. And it’s just a complete journey in another world.”
She attended JVS and Lincoln Academy, then departed for France after graduation to work on her cousin’s husband’s cattle ranch, an experience she called “a crash course in life.” Because she could drive stick, her job included operating a $100,000 tractor.
“You can imagine me at 19 with my Grateful Dead tie-dye. None of the women even drove over there. It was still very far back in a way, and it other ways it was very forward,” she said.
She felt there were would never be another time in her life when she could make those kinds of decisions, she said, especially if she took on student loans.
In France, she learned a lot about food and a lot about cows. When she arrived, the French method of moving cattle was screaming at the animals. Brooks and her cousin taught them to respond to ‘Come on, cows.’
“My cousin and I helped shift from this crazy dramatic move from one pasture to this nice, sweet thing,” she said.
After four years, she applied for more permanent residency, but being born in Japan and later adopted by her stepfather, Brooks said her paperwork was so complicated that French officials did not know how to process it and refused to.
Returning to the U.S., she settled in Boston and attended psychology courses at the University of Massachusetts, which she intended to pay her way through in cash. When the university began to require that students purchase health insurance in full at the beginning of the year, she said the cost became too steep.
Brooks left school and worked as a full-time nanny until she had her own children. While working in Boston, she was introduced to her husband, Scott, by a cousin who thought he would be perfect for her.
Brooks said she was charmed by Scott’s 11-year-old son first, then by her husband. Scott’s son is part of the reason for her work today, along with a random act of kindness received after the family lost him in a fire over a decade later.
With two young children at the time, the couple was struggling, and it made an impact on Brooks when someone paid for their food at a restaurant and left a card.
“So I started doing little random acts of kindness that felt phenomenal, and also it felt like who I really was,” she said. “Running this pantry helps heal that part of me that isn’t able to heal any other way, by being loving and kind and helpful, because there are a lot of people who were loving and kind and helpful to me when I had two little children and a funeral to plan.”
She remembered a pantry pickup that fell on the anniversary, and said she felt so surrounded by happiness, community, love, and fulfillment that the date did not bother her.
“You just learn how to hold it in different ways,” she said. “You can let it eat you up, or you can use that as energy for something better. And I know he’s watching, so I better do the right thing.”
Her involvement with the pantry came about in 2018, not long after her return to Jefferson, when she felt ready to branch out again.
“I came home in 2016. By 2017 I was healing from all the other worldly things I’ve been through,” she said. “When you come home to Maine, it’s just this wonderful feeling.”
After many years in Massachusetts, Brooks spent five years looking at properties with her real estate agent, Jack Holland.
“I worked him to death,” she said, “but I finally came home and purchased a property with him after all those years, and ended up taking his job.”
She continued making referrals and couldn’t stop watching the real estate market, she said, leading to her job at Farrin Properties, now Peninsula Properties.
That same year she became involved with the pantry, which she now chairs, after a member of the Revitalize Jefferson group told her that joining the pantry was a good way to give back.
Volunteers were all seniors at the time — Brooks remains the youngest person involved today — and the pantry’s bimonthly distributions require a lot of heavy lifting.
Those few short years ago, the pantry stored all its food in one cupboard. Today, she estimated, about a thousand times more is available.
When Brooks was voted chair, she said she took some risks, such as joining The Emergency Food Assistance Program to receive federal food supplies. Volunteers pick up food from Brunswick to Augusta to Damariscotta, stocking it in St. Giles’ Episcopal Church basement until pickup week.
“There are a lot of people that have come and they’re just so sick, but they’re still smiling and laughing as they leave,” she said. “There’s something beyond anything you could put a name to, but it’s community at a base level. We don’t talk politics, we don’t talk religion, we just give them food and we make laughter happen.”
The pantry holds consistent pickup dates, is the only area food pantry with evening hours, and will deliver. Brooks said the volunteers and visitors have become friends and always look out for each other.
“You might not need us ever, but you never know what could happen, and we’re there for you,” she said.
The pantry was organized “to give without boundaries,” Brooks said, without asking people to prove that they need it or that they live in the town.
The organization also supplies JVS teachers and the school nurse’s office with snacks.
Though the pantry’s community is solid, costs are steadily increasing, volunteers are aging, and many of the pantry’s funders are less able to donate. At the same time, need has increased from about 20 households to more than 80, for a total of about 200 people fed. Each pickup costs about $2,000, according to Brooks.
Brooks said there is still stigma attached to every part of the pantry, including for those who run it. Sometimes, people ask what’s in it for her.
“It fills my cup every day,” she said. “I go to bed and I know that I’ve done the right things. Tomorrow might be different, but today I did the right thing.”
Outside of the pantry, Brooks recently served one term on the Jefferson School Committee when no one else returned papers, which she said was one of the most educational things she had ever done personally or professionally.
“If you’re wondering how things are run, show up and listen,” she said. She did not seek reelection to have more time available for the pantry.
At home, she now has two teenage children, one at JVS and one at LA, enjoys the places where her work overlaps with her husband’s business as a carpenter, and raises 20-plus chickens. Extra eggs sometimes find their way into pantry pickups.
Brooks is also a member of the Whitefield Lions Club and sometimes helps out at the JVS parent-teacher association. Outside of organizations, she said, she just wants to be there for anyone who needs help.
“The smiles I helped create are worth a trillion dollars,” she said.
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