In 2020 alone, Preble Street provided over one million meals, a reflection of the increasing needs in the community for food support and access to healthy meals. The food programs offer mobile food services and soup kitchens along with a food pantry for those experiencing food insecurity and housing instability or homelessness.
In February 2021, Preble Street launched the Culturally Appropriate Food Initiative, with help from a $25,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation for a pilot program. The Culturally Appropriate Food Initiative is designed to address the particular needs of immigrant community members experiencing hunger. The initiative recognizes the need not only for healthy and nourishing food, but for meals familiar – and therefore comforting – to new arrivals to the United States. Senior Director of Food Programs and Facilities Joe Conroy explained that Preble Street recognized a growing need as migrant families continued to arrive throughout the pandemic, with 70 migrant families, or 200 individuals, unable to be housed in the family shelter. Those families currently live in overflow shelters, including in motels where parents can’t cook meals for their children because they have no access to kitchens, and often are without the resources to purchase prepared foods, let alone African foods.
Khadija Ahmed, now Preble Street food programs supervisor leading the Culturally Appropriate Food Initiative, first joined Preble Street five years ago as a volunteer. She has spent three years focusing on cultural programs. Staff at the organization said she was instrumental in creating this pilot program, which dovetails with her constant goal of catering to the immigrant population and helping them find their way in Maine upon entry. Her primary role is planning and preparing meals, but she also regularly visits the motels herself to deliver food and check in with families to see how they are and if they need any additional resources beyond meals.
As of April, the Culturally Appropriate Food Initiative has distributed almost 8,000 meals to immigrant families since its launch in February. Three times a week, the program provides 120 family-sized meals delivered primarily to those temporarily residing in the motels. Next year, both Conroy and Ahmed hope to expand the program to continue serving the growing immigrant population. Conroy is allocating $175,000 in next year’s budget, and expects to be able to sustain the program, given the positive feedback and strong support. The goal is to provide meals seven days a week.