According to the USDA, Maine has the second highest rate of very low food security, or hunger, in the nation. Only Alabama has higher hunger rates. 14.8 percent of Maine residents and 21% of children live in homes that can’t afford enough food.
“Maine is one of very few states without a rigorous, cohesive effort focused on developing policies to end hunger,” said MECEP’s Associate Director, Garrett Martin. “The Maine Hunger Initiative’s objective is to get people the help they need now while working with policymakers to solve systemic problems that result in hunger throughout our state.”
Maine’s level of food insecurity has risen faster than other states in recent years. Due to the soaring cost of food and the worsening economy, more Mainers are turning up at food pantries and in soup kitchen lines. Currently southern Maine food pantries serve 25,183 residents each month.
“Each week in Cumberland County, over 1,000 people have to come to a food pantry to get a box of food just so they and their families won’t go hungry. Many have young children, many are elderly and many are working or have recently become unemployed. If we don’t do more to tackle the problem and find solutions now, the long-term consequences for families and communities can be devastating,” said Donna Yellen of Preble Street. “Hunger should not be a fact of life in Maine. Over 175,000 Maine people should not have to struggle to eat.”
Community programs and philanthropic endeavors have traditionally maintained Maine’s disparate and fragile emergency food efforts. But hunger remains.
“Mainers have a long held tradition of working together to help our neighbors during hard times. Church food pantries work diligently to meet the need of all who show up at their door, but they are feeling the strain of increased demand and can’t fill all the gaps,” said Jill Saxby of Maine Council of Churches. “We need to go up stream to find the causes of hunger and work together to eradicate it. We hope others will join us.”
To alter the course of hunger the Maine Hunger Initiative will translate on-the-ground knowledge, research and experiences into broad scale change. Service providers, advocates, policy specialists, the faith community and people using emergency food services have joined forces to work with policymakers to advance social and economic justice.
“We must secure more resources and better coordinate public and private efforts to reduce hunger. We will work with the state to tap into underutilized federal resources. At the same time we don’t want to just put a bandaid on the problem. We need to advance policies that will improve economic security for Maine people,” said MEJP’s Chris Hastedt.
Last month the Campaign to Promote Food Security in Cumberland County issued an extensive report detailing the problem of hunger in the region with over 30 recommendations for how to reduce food insecurity. At least two of the recommendations will be submitted for consideration during this legislation session. One would increase summer feeding programs for school-aged children; the other would provide a tax credit for farmers who make donations to emergency food programs. “These two bills are a first step in developing a broader public policy agenda related to food security,” said Michael Brennan, a Policy Associate at the Muskie School of Public Service.
The Maine Hunger Initiative, with a collective history of serving the people of Maine for 164 years, is determined to find a public/private solution to hunger.
“Hunger in our communities is not acceptable”, said Preble Street’s Mark Swann. “Never was a powerful partnership more important.”