Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England and is one of the most food insecure states in the country. One in five Maine children do not get enough food to eat, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are disproportionately affected by this rise in hunger. To combat this, Preble Street is currently providing over 60,000 meals each month to people in need through street outreach, a food pantry, soup kitchens located at the Teen Center and Florence House, and the new Food Security Hub.
Caseworkers and our advocacy team also provide outreach to people experiencing poverty, including New Mainers, to enroll them in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and P-EBT benefits to help them afford to feed themselves and their families. Thanks to a grant from No Kid Hungry in 2021, Preble Street was able to partner with nine local organizations to enroll 1,222 people in these programs while also educating families around the state about these critical benefits.
But ensuring that our neighbors have enough to eat is not the only goal. “One of our top priorities at Preble Street is to provide food that is healthy and nourishing,” says Natalie Varrallo (she/her), Food Programs Director. By sourcing food and produce from local farmers, including New Mainer run farms that provide ingredients that may otherwise be hard to come by, we are able to provide raw, whole, fresh ingredients in pantry boxes so that people from all cultures can create foods that give them a sense of home. These fresh ingredients are also used to create high-quality, nutritious meals for people living in shelters or on the street.
As the Food Security Hub reaches completion over the next year, we will be able to expand these efforts even further. Added space and resources will allow Food Programs staff to connect with more local farms and preserve donated produce to ensure access to high-quality and sustainable ingredients year-round. “When food is fresh and processed in-house, it can provide many more nutrients. The Food Security Hub will allow us to increase the overall nutrition of the meals that we’re providing, as well as allow us to provide more dietary restriction meals and meet the needs of more clients,” adds Natalie.
The Food Security Hub also creates an opportunity to increase collaboration with partner agencies to address hunger in a more holistic way. “There are so many local organizations doing incredible work. When we put our resources together, we can make real change and improve access to more nutritious food,” says Natalie.