Topic: Maine Hunger Initiative

SNAP: A Lifeline for Hungry Mainers

Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) and Preble Street today released the results of new research about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

While the nation makes progress reducing hunger, Maine is losing ground compared to other states. SNAP is Maine’s first and most important line of defense in helping hungry Mainers get enough to eat.

  • 63% of Maine SNAP participants are in households with children
  • 43% contain household members who are elderly or have a disability
  • 41% are working households

To better understand the role that SNAP plays in Mainers’ lives, MEJP and Preble Street partnered with agencies and community groups to survey families around the state. The study finds:

  • SNAP helps most, but not all, respondents get enough to eat
  • SNAP reduces stress, but does not eliminate financial strain on families
  • SNAP participants have to make difficult choices when they run short of food
  • Without SNAP, most participants have nowhere else to turn for help
  • Rural Mainers face particular challenges to accessing food

Because Maine has made policy choices to reduce access to SNAP, Mainers struggle to get the food they need. When Mainers struggle to get the food they need, kids fall behind in school and fall behind on brain development; working households choose between eating or keeping the lights on; older Mainers become ill; Veterans are unable to get their health needs met; people with disabilities live in fear of starvation; and parents skip meals to feed families. SNAP is a lifeline. SNAP is a vaccine.

Many Maine families have nowhere to turn when food runs short. Reducing access to SNAP will produce nothing short of a statewide emergency.

Click here to view the executive summary.

Click here to view the full report.

Curbside: News from Preble Street Spring 2017

The spring 2017 edition of Curbside: News from Preble Street hit homes this week. Did you receive a copy? If not, you can read it below, and sign up here for future issues.

Comprehensive Study of Hunger in Maine Reveals Persistent and Widespread Suffering  

As the Maine State Legislature begins considering budget proposals and bills aimed at further restricting the state’s safety net, a research study by Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank reveals that recent policy changes to food assistance programs have already intensified the suffering and hunger of many Mainers.

“Hunger exists in every town and city in Maine. Working families, seniors, veterans and children struggle with hunger on a daily basis and when safety net programs are cut, more and more people find themselves having to turn to food pantries to get by.  That’s not something we should be proud of and we can do better,” according to Willy Ritch, campaign director for A Place at the Table, a national anti-hunger campaign run by Washington-based Food Policy Action Education Fund, speaking at a press conference announcing the release of the study.

Maine ranks third in the nation for hunger.  And while hunger is decreasing nationally, Mainers continue to struggle to put food on their tables. Nearly 16 percent of Maine households, or more than 200,000 people, are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If I’m working as hard as I do, I want to have the right to survive and live instead of going hungry,” said a Hancock County man who participated in the research study.

Alarmed by the persistence of hunger in Maine and changes in the state’s administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that have resulted in thousands of people losing access to food assistance benefits, Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank enlisted Dr. Michael Hillard of the University of Southern Maine and Jean Bessette, doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire, to help them gain a clearer understanding of who is struggling in Maine and what challenges they face getting the food they need.

”The food pantry network is a vital lifeline for families and seniors across our state, but food pantries have been asked to do too much,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “With the Food Bank and food pantries feeding more than 15 percent of Maine’s households on an ongoing basis, that tells me we have a systemic problem on our hands.”

The organizations surveyed more than 2,000 people at food pantries across Maine, asking questions about household demographics, use of charitable food assistance, participation in SNAP, and employment.

Survey results show that recent policy changes to the food assistance program in Maine have deepened chronic food insecurity. Instead of providing assistance in an emergency, food pantries now serve as an ongoing means of survival for many.

“When we started Preble Street 41 years ago, Maine had only 40 food pantries total. Now there are at least 400. Every week hundreds of families line up for food at our pantry. But we wish they didn’t have to,” said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street.

In addition, the study found that:

  • 87 percent of households seeking assistance at hunger relief organizations include a child, a senior, and/or a person with a disability
  • 86 percent of respondents use a food pantry once a month or more
  • 59 percent of respondents are using the food pantry more this year than they did last

One in four respondents reported being dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the past year, due to policy changes in Maine that reduced eligibility, and when asked about the consequences, 86 percent described making difficult choices between paying for food and other necessities, such as healthcare and housing.

As Elton Thornhill, a U.S. Navy Veteran who was cut from the SNAP program explains, “The whole point of these benefits, after you have served your country, is to be able to rely on them. Then I find myself having to jump through hurdles to achieve them and it doesn’t work.”

In addition to presenting results from the research, Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank offer a series of policy recommendations that would help alleviate hunger in Maine.

Read the full report here, or the Executive Summary here.

Mainers Helping Mainers: A Preble Street Year in Review

Watch our Year in Review video, featuring some of the friends and neighbors who stepped up to make a difference in 2016!

Every day at Preble Street, the community comes together to help Mainers move forward to better lives, giving their time, their energy, their money, their voices, and their hearts.

Your donation to Preble Street does more than ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community make it through another day. Your support empowers brave, determined people to break the cycle of homelessness by finding work, studying hard, never giving up, learning new skills, finding their voices, reuniting with family, and reaching their goals.

Most of all it helps them hold on to hope during their darkest hours.

Please join us this year in growing our community of giving hands and grateful hearts.

A call for action from Dr. Peter Bates

Each year on the longest night of homelessness, Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, community leaders and concerned neighbors gather for the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil to remember our homeless friends who have died and recommit ourselves to the task of ending homelessness.

So far in 2016, 32 people living in Portland, Maine, have died without homes.

“As a doctor, I know that if this were a new disease in a new community there would be a rampant call for action. And the fact that there isn’t always makes me sad, but also tells me how much work there is to do,” Dr. Peter Bates, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Maine Medical Center about the urgent need to find solutions to homelessness during this year’s vigil on December 21, 2016.

Join us for the Longest Night of Homelessness!

Each year on the longest night of homelessness, Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, community leaders and concerned neighbors gather for the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil to remember our homeless friends who have died and recommit ourselves to the task of ending homelessness.

Join us on Wednesday, December 21, at 4 pm for a candlelight procession starting at the Preble Street Resource Center, and proceeding to Monument Square for a ceremony dedicated to those persons who have died in our community.

Welcome, 2016-17 Interns!

Front Row: Ben Richards; USM, Kelly Gayle; USM, Alyssa Wade; UNE, Katy Finch; UNE, Naomi Abrams USM, Melissa Towle; UNE, Rachel Andreasen; USM, Kendra Page; UNE. Back Row: Brad Hammond; USM, Mark, Jen Dorval; USM, Sarah Carr, Jesuit Volunteer, Tim Bates; USM, Nicole Sutherland; USM, Amber Clark; USM, Justin Brown; USM.

Front Row: Ben Richards; USM, Kelly Gayle; USM, Alyssa Wade; UNE, Katy Finch; UNE, Naomi Abrams USM, Melissa Towle; UNE, Rachel Andreasen; USM, Kendra Page; UNE. Back Row: Brad Hammond; USM, Mark, Jen Dorval; USM, Sarah Carr, Jesuit Volunteer, Tim Bates; USM, Nicole Sutherland; USM, Amber Clark; USM, Justin Brown; USM.

Preble Street is incredibly excited to welcome its 2016-17 class of social work interns.

This prestigious and competitive social work placement opportunity has been key to meeting the Preble Street mission since it was founded by Joe Kreisler, chair of the University of Southern Maine social work department. The Preble Street internship program has trained more than 400 social workers in its more-than-40-year history. Expanding from a placement opportunity for USM social work students, the applicant pool has grown over the years to include students from University of Maine Augusta, University of New England, St. Joseph’s College, Lesley University, Boston College, and Southern Maine Community College.

Hunger hurts us all: A Maine perspective on the next farm bill

Preble Street Advocacy Director Jan Bindas-Tenney addressed the 2016 National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Summer Meeting, which convened in Orono, Maine, in early August.

Here’s what she had to say. .

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this panel on the 2018 Farm Bill. My name is Jan Bindas-Tenney and I am the Advocacy Director for the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative. At Preble Street we provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty, and to advocate for solutions to these problems.

Not many people realize that if you took the 5 largest cities in Maine, there would be more Mainers living in food insecure homes than the total population of those five cities. One in six Mainers are food insecure. There are more Maine people living with food insecurity than the total number of people living in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, and Auburn combined.

Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the nation which is shameful. We have higher rates of hunger than any of the Northeast or Mid Atlantic states.

To give a more national perspective on hunger for those of you who are here from outside of Maine courtesy of our friends at the Food Research and Action Center:

1. More than one in seven Americans – 48.1 million of us – lived in households struggling against hunger in 2014. Of this number, 15.3 million were children.

2. Rural areas (probably where most of you work and live) experience considerably deeper struggles with hunger compared to those inside metropolitan areas (17.1 percent compared to 13.5 percent).

3. Hunger hurts us all. Eliminating hunger would save the nation billions of dollars in doctor and hospital bills, special education, and lost economic productivity. On the contrary, when we create policy that addresses hunger while supporting sustainable agriculture such as the Farm To School programs and EBT at Farmers Markets, everyone wins.

4. SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) provides crucial support to people struggling through challenging economic times. More than 80 percent of people who participate in SNAP are either working or cannot work because they are children, senior citizens, or have disabilities.

Just like clean water, public safety and education, making sure that everyone has enough to eat is an obligation of a just society, not something that’s done only when individuals feel generous.

At the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, we advocate for policy change that would eliminate hunger. In the 1970s the United States succeeded at virtually eliminating hunger and it’s possible again now, if we have the political will. Livable wage jobs and increased access to USDA nutrition programs like SNAP and childhood nutrition programs in school to fill the gaps make ending hunger easy and possible.

Programs like SNAP stimulate the economy. Five dollars of SNAP generates nine dollars in the local economy.

Over and over again, the people we serve at Preble Street credit SNAP with being the temporary support that paved their way to self-sustainability. SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, a critical bridge that helps individuals and families re-establish financial stability and move out of poverty.

There is trend in Maine and perhaps around the country to limit access to programs like SNAP. You may have seen Maine in the news recently when our state threatened to end the SNAP program here all together.

Since Maine refused a waiver from the USDA and implemented a three month time limit for unemployed childless adults without disabilities to access SNAP, tens of thousand people have lost assistance. Still unable to find work that pays enough, many who lost their SNAP benefits are struggling with hunger. They are now turning to food pantries and soup kitchens when they are unable to find work.

We serve 1200 meals per day at Preble Street soup kitchens and provide emergency groceries to approximately 200 families every week.

At Preble Street we’ve run a farm to pantry project that has been enormously successful at bringing fresh local produce to our food pantry and other pantries in our region. Our partner Good Shepherd Food Bank has expanded on this idea to create the statewide “Mainers Feeding Mainers” program that brings local produce to pantries all over the state.

Our pantry is full of fresh produce and every Thursday our pantry is packed with families who want this produce. We know that people with low-incomes want fresh local produce as much as everyone else. It’s just about facilitating access and supporting affordability.

But we’d like to stop having to serve this many soup kitchen meals and emergency groceries. Food pantries are not the solution to hunger. We’d rather see Mainers with the income and access to buy local food from farmers for themselves and to cook that food in their own homes.

So, what can we do?

• Find ways for the anti-hunger movement and sustainable agriculture movement to work closely together on Farm Bill advocacy. Thank you for inviting me here today!

• Make a priority in the next Farm Bill to protect and strengthen SNAP. SNAP reduces poverty and is good for the local economy, good for farmers. Not only should we protect SNAP, but strengthen the program by eliminating time limits, restrictions, asset tests; stop focusing on policing poor people and expand access to SNAP. The maximum SNAP benefit is equivalent to $4/day, which is not enough to prevent hunger.

• Expand the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program that provides grant funds to organizations conducting fruit and vegetable incentive projects for SNAP participants, such as double dollar programs for SNAP at farmers markets, food cooperatives, and other retailers.

• Expand Healthy Food Financing Incentive programs to create healthy food purchasing options in areas where people have few options for food: between fast food and convenience stores. Bring fresh food options to these areas.

• Build our sustainable and local food system, as the panelists invited by Congresswoman Pingree described this morning. A sustainable local food system benefits the farmers, the local economy and facilitates healthy food access for people with low-incomes.

We ask the sustainable agriculture movement to join us in this effort, following the ancient words of asking for bread for those who hunger and hunger for justice to those who have bread.

Responding to the Hunger Crisis for Maine Kids

Maine Hunger Initiative is spreading across Maine again this summer, working to combat hunger.

To increase the number of meals served to children who have no access to adequate nutrition during the school vacation months, MHI has sent 16 AmeriCorps VISTAs (14 from Hunger Free America and 2 from Goodwill of Northern New England), 2 Bowdoin Community Matters Fellows, and 2 Share our Strength Youth Ambassadors into communities to distribute healthy meals in partnership with
Hancock County (Health Acadia), Lincoln County (Healthy Lincoln County), Oxford County (Healthy Oxford Hills),
Piscataquis County (YMCA)
Portland (East End Kids Katering; Opportunity Alliance)
Sagadahoc County (Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Partners)
Skowhegan (RSU 54)
Somerset County (Somerset Public Health)
Washington County (Healthy Acadia)
Westbrook (Westbrook Public Schools)

At a press conference featuring Joel Berg, executive director of Hunger Free America, Rep. Drew Gattine, highlighted the critical situation these organizations are working to remedy:

No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can’t deny that our children are Maine’s future. They need to succeed in school. They need to show up at their day cares and their pre-K programs and in our schools ready to learn and ready to succeed. But they can’t if they don’t have full stomachs.

When it comes to the fight against poverty, Maine kids are falling behind. Over the past six years the number of Maine kids living in extreme poverty has grown by 50%. The highest growth rate in nation, which is absolutely shameful. 20% of children in Maine live in poverty and until we focus on that problem and bend that curve Maine will never be successful. If our kids don’t succeed, Maine won’t succeed.

Hunger is a big part of that equation in Maine. More than 208,000 Maine households are food insecure – the highest rate in New England. Nearly one in four Maine children faces hunger.

This has huge implications for their future success. We know that a child’s developing brain cannot learn when it’s deprived of regular nutrition.

Hungry kids have lower math scores and are more likely to have problems with anxiety, irritability and aggression. They have more issues with absenteeism and tardiness.

Almost 20% of students of students who qualify for free- or reduced-price school meals are not taking advantage – whether it’s because of embarrassment, the application process or the timing of the meals.

The end of the school year means the loss of those meals many children. Less than a quarter of kids eligible for free or reduced-price school meals continue to get meals during the summer.

The programs may not be present in their communities and there are also challenges with transportation and raising awareness about their availability.

Summer meal programs can make a huge difference for kids – for both the short and long term. They can prevent the “summer slide” – the loss of academic skills and knowledge after the school year – while boosting high school graduation rates and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

So, the answer is obvious. We need to improve access to nutritious food to working families and vulnerable Mainers, especially for kids.

The Legislature is tackling the crisis in a number of ways …

A task force on ending student hunger published a landmark report last year. One of the goals in the plan is to have a summer meal site at every eligible school district within five years. (Alfond)

And a new commission is bringing together Mainers working to end student hunger, including school officials and representatives of food pantries and non-profits. One of their first tasks is to make sure more Maine children are benefitting from summer meal programs.

We need to move forward with initiatives like these to make nutritious food more, to more families year round. The goal should be that no Mainer go hungry, especially our children, who count on us to put them on the path to success so that we can count of them to build Maine’s future.

Help us end student hunger in Maine!

This Full Plates Full Potential letter just went out to all Maine School Superintendents and Principals.

Please do your part to encourage local leaders to take care of the kids in your community. Like, Share, Call!


This summer, hundreds of kids in your school district will experience hunger. Full Plates Full Potential is a collaborative private/public partnership of nonprofit organizations, government agencies including the Maine Department of Education, private businesses, and concerned citizens working together to put an end to childhood hunger in Maine. We are writing to urge you to be a champion to end student hunger in your community.

Kids are more acutely at risk during the summer when they do not have access to school meals. Not only does feeding hungry kids over the summer mean they return in the fall ready for academic success, but if 50% or more of students in a school in your district qualified for free or reduced meals this year and you run a summer educational or recreational program in that school, it is your obligation under Maine law to provide summer meals.

Beyond the obligation of the law, we hope you’ll see the imperative to prevent hunger in your community. Your leadership helps ensure that children in your district are positioned to thrive.

There are 86,000 Maine school-aged children eligible for free and reduced price meals when school is in session.

  • Only 1/4 of those kids eat at USDA sponsored Summer Food Service Program meal sites.
  • Many Maine children go the entire summer without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food at home.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides reimbursement for Summer Meals, while the Maine DOE administers the program. Local organizations, including schools, non-profits, parks and recreation departments, libraries and faith-based groups, serve the meals.

It’s a great program with a simple application and statewide support that many towns find to be an opportunity for community building and academic enrichment. Summer meals are the first line of defense against the summer learning loss.

Here at Full Plates Full Potential we have a wealth of expertise. We are ready to provide the technical assistance you may need to combat summer hunger in your community. You can find more information at the DOE’s website:

Please contact us with any questions, concerns or for more information. We look forward to collaborating with you soon. You can reach me at:(207) 775-0026 or


Jan Bindas-Tenney
Full Plates Full Potential Campaign Partner and Advocacy Coordinator at the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative