… Over the past year, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street have undertaken the first research effort of its kind to better understand trends of hunger and food pantry usage in Maine.
The results from more than 2,000 surveys completed in 244 towns in every county show how much Mainers are depending on local food pantries, stretching the capacity of a network that was set up for emergencies. A quarter of those surveyed had lost SNAP benefits in the past year, and 59 percent said they were using pantries more this year than last.
“It was really when the recession hit,” said Kristen Miale, Good Shepherd Food Bank’s president. “They saw the spike, and it has yet to get better.”
Eighty-two percent of those surveyed at their local food pantries use pantries once a month or more often. Seventy-three percent have made trade-offs, having to choose between paying for food or other necessities.
Pantries are filling a need they weren’t designed to fill, said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, which offers social work, housing and meals. Good Shepherd Food Bank’s pantry network — of which Preble Street is a part — gives out 21 million meals a year, while SNAP is responsible for the equivalent of 86 million meals.
“The whole idea of food pantries really was about an emergency measure, neighbor helping neighbor when something unexpected happened, catastrophe happened, and when people needed one-time, short-term help,” Swann said. “What we’ve seen is people have been coming back over and over and over again.” …