New Hunger Coalition to help growing number of families in need

PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER) — A new coalition of businesses, farmers, food pantries and people who use them has formed to collectively combat the growing problem of hunger in Maine.

Maine is experiencing a sad and shocking distinction: in the last few years, we’ve had the largest increase in the country in the number of families going hungry. The need is greatest in Cumberland County.

Social service coordinators say the rise in forclosures and job losses has put a whole new group of middle class people onto the hunger rolls.

“Its amazing who you see coming to a soup kithcen or a food pantry,” says Dee Clark, a mother and coalition member who uses the food pantry at Preble Street in Portland. “You see little kids coming … little kids in baby carriages coming. I have a friend who is well past 80 who is in the shelter an she’s very dependent on the soup kitchens. She has no food.”

So Mark Lapping, a food expert at the Muskie Institute at University of Southern Maine, realized this … he lept into action. He helped pull together 40 different agencies, farmers, businesses and families who need food to pool ideas and resources and help expand efforts to feed the hungry, and make the system more efficient.

“Most food is not affordable for people lving below poverty line.” says Penny Jordan, a farmer in Cape Elizabeth. Jordan says farmers can contribute food … but also help people find ways to afford fresh produce. One of the things she’s suggesting is that farmers and farmers’ markets to start accepting food stamps and other forms of public assistance.

Dee Clark says not all food pantries offer fruits and vegetables, so she is suggesting supplies be evened out among food pantries across the state so families can get fresh produce on a regular basis.

Marcia Frank, another client of Preble Street and also a coalition member, says many people are too proud or ashamed to go to food pantries. She is suggesting fliers be circulated and put in bags at grocery stores giving people information about how to get nutritious, affordable or free food.

The coalition will be implementing new strategies on a regular basis and hopes to have a new streamlined system up and running by year’s end.