Food Insecurity in Maine: Part One

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Maine ranks as the 7th worst state in the nation for food insecurity.

That's according to a US Department of Agriculture report which says more than 16% of Maine households have limited access to adequate food.

As the nation as a whole continues to make progress against hunger, Maine appears to be going in the wrong direction.

But there are several programs and organizations dedicated to help reverse that trend for seniors, children, and working Maine families.

"I think that's a myth that a lot of people might think that if you're struggling with hunger, you must be homeless or you must be really in the complete depths of poverty, and unfortunately what we see is the majority of people in Maine who are struggling with hunger are working families, the working poor. The reality is that incomes in Maine right now are lower than they were in 2007 before the recession. So that's 10 years where we just haven't had income growth," said Clara Whitney, Director of Public Affairs for the Good Shepherd Food Bank

As the largest hunger relief organization in the state, food is inspected and sorted here at their 53,000 square foot facility and is shipped to food pantries, soup kitchens, and senior centers across the state.

"We source food and then we distribute that food out to those local organizations who are feeding people in need in their communities," said Whitney.

10 trucks are on the road every day driving from Kittery to Fort Kent to more than 400 local organizations. One stop is in Skowhegan, a town hit particularly hard by food insecurity.

The Skowhegan Community Food Cupboard has been run by volunteers for decades now. Over the years, they've had to expand to meet the growing need in the community.

"We do have some people that we've seen for many years over and over and over again. It's just the way it is," said Sharon Tyler, a volunteer at the pantry.

Serving roughly 450 families a month, volunteers say it's an even mix of young adults, seniors, and working families with children.

"They're not homeless or unemployed. They are employed, but they're very much under-employed or partially employed where they never reach that 40 hour a week thing. It's 20, 32. And they qualify. And it's usually at minimum wage, so all you have to do is multiply it through and you can see that they fall under the category where they would qualify for food," said Tyler.

Many Skowhegan residents qualify for food at the pantry, specifically those receiving SNAP benefits, those on MaineCare, and seniors living off social security.

"They come in on their own and most of them are husband and wife, but many times it's just the women, the widows in many cases. They only have their social security, the majority of them, so automatic qualifications," said Tyler.

Programs such as Meals on Wheels help serve Maine seniors daily meals directly to their home. Folks at the Good Shepherd Food Bank say while more Mainers are going hungry, the generosity of those with the means to help has also increased.

Despite community donations from foundations, businesses, and individuals, it's still not enough to get Maine back on track, particularly among Maine children.

"1 in 5 kids in Maine are living in a food insecure home. They're not able to access all of the nutritious food that they need to live a healthy life, and so the school meal programs are just crucial for making sure that kids in Maine are having breakfast and lunch at school and getting that nutrition," said Whitney.