Federal grant will cover nearly 47,000 more meals at Cumberland County soup kitchens

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Monday that $93,000 in federal grant money will be used to pay for 46,500 meals at soup kitchens and food pantries in Cumberland County.

The news comes three days before a community forum held by Portland’s task force on homelessness, a group created by city officials to grapple with issues facing the homeless at a time when demand for shelter space has reached an all-time high. According to the city, donations to area shelters are down by as much as a third this year, despite the fact that the homeless population of Portland has risen by 20 percent over the past four years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the $93,000 in grant money to Cumberland County Emergency Food and Shelter National Board and the United Way of Greater Portland, which will distribute the funds to local organizations such as Preble Street in Portland, Catherine’s Cupboard in Standish, and Mission Possible Teen Center in Westbrook.

“The number of people needing critical services such as food and shelter has never been higher, and this funding will provide some measure of relief to a system that is particularly strained right now,” said Suzanne McCormick, president of United Way of Greater Portland and a member of the city’s homelessness task force, in a statement. “Sen. Collins has once again demonstrated her deep commitment to the well-being of all Maine citizens.”

The Thursday night forum, at which the task force will update the public on its work and seek ways to better prevent homelessness, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library.

Collins said Monday that FEMA also awarded more than $10,000 for similar hunger and homeless aid programs in Franklin County. Lisa Laflin, executive director of the United Way of the Tri Valley Area, said the grant money will provide more than 2,300 vulnerable individuals in Franklin County additional meals each month.

“The weak economy has been tough on families across the country and Maine is no exception,” said Collins in a statement. “We have seen an increase in students who qualify for free lunch, high unemployment, and less food going to more people at our food pantries. We think of FEMA as helping American recover from storms, but, in this case, these grants will help Mainers ride out our struggling economy.”

The Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative survey of more than 700 people accessing food pantries in Cumberland County recently revealed that 52 percent of families receiving emergency food are employed but don’t make enough to cover regular meals.