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by Esther J. Perne
If it's Tuesday, a door opens in Belgrade; if it's Wednesday, Sidney; Thursday, Oakland. Almost every day of the week in some town in Central Maine, food pantry volunteers are helping give out food to residents who simply cannot afford enough food to keep away hunger or stave off the feelings of food insecurity.
Almost daily during summer vacation, at schools, churches, rec programs children in Central Maine as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program receive breakfast, lunch, snacks served by food service workers and volunteers.
Almost weekly there is a food drive in progress, a small one at a place of work, a clever one at a library that will accept cans of food in lieu of late fees, an unexpected one when a young birthday boy or girl requests food donations instead of gifts and a large one like the recent collection of over 1,000 pounds of food and over $1,050 of essential items by Elanco Animal Health in Winslow in just the month of June.
The statistics are saddening. According to the USDA's estimate more than one in five people or one in four children in Maine are food insecure. The Belgrade/Rome Food Pantry points out that 23% of seniors a harder group to reach experience food insecurity.
Nationally, Maine ranks third among states for the rate of hunger according to an industry study conducted in 2017, with more than 16% of its households, more than 200,000 people unable to afford enough food throughout the year.
Unfortunately, many of these people do not qualify for formal assistance. United Way of Mid-Maine reports that about 30% of the people who are food insecure, make too much money to qualify for assistance programs but not enough money to feed their families. Therefore they depend on charitable efforts such as food pantries and soup kitchens.
As the need for feeding the hungry in Maine increases and the availability of government aid decreases (for example Kennebec County will not be receiving any Emergency Food and Shelter money this year) Food pantries will rely more and more on private contributions and donations.
For summer visitors, in particular, please remember food pantries when leaving Maine at the end of your stay. When you are emptying your cupboards remember there are collection boxes at town offices and post offices. There are bottle redemption boxes roadside and at transfer stations. Financial donations may be sent to the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, Maine, or checks may be given directly to local Food Pantries.
But actual contributions of food are best, from everyone. Be a hero against hunger.