Topic: Food Programs

Volunteer of the Month: Emily

When a retiring weekend volunteer decided to pass the spatula along to the next generation, Emily Wasserman willingly took over.

Every weekend, Emily rises before the sun to serve a beautiful, nutritious breakfast at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen with love, patience, and the imagination of a “Chopped” champ.

“I wanted to become part of a community that is welcoming and cares about the issues of homelessness and food insecurity in Maine,” she says. “People deserve to be valued and taken care of, and I get to spend time with a bunch of genuine, kind, funny people. What could be better than that?”

Thank you, Emily, for all that you do to help our neighbors in need!

Volunteer of the Month: Peter

When Peter is in the kitchen, people are laughing, smiling, and in high spirits.

“Chef Peter” began volunteering at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen several years ago as a member of the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church of Cape Elizabeth, a dedicated monthly volunteer group. In addition, Peter volunteers several times a week on his own.

The unassuming leadership “he shows at all times is touching, and he makes people feel welcome and at ease,” remark kitchen staff. “He may have thought he was flying under the radar, just doing his part, but we have all noticed and appreciate him!”

Thank you, Peter, for your gracious approach to service, quiet leadership, and unfailingly positive attitude!

Preble Street Receives Shaw’s Hunger Is Grant

Preble Street is truly honored to be the recipient of a $13,534.01 Hunger Is grant from Shaw’s and Star Market Foundation! Shaw’s is a longtime supporter of hunger relief causes, and this year’s Hunger Is campaign was the most successful yet. In addition to raising money, Shaw’s donates food from its stores and distribution centers. This equates to millions of dollars in food and financial donations each year to help people who need it most.

Thanks to our Shaw’s partners and their many customers who donated to support our organization, children in our area will get a healthy breakfast each day. Hunger Is beatable!

Volunteer of the Month: Melodie

It’s been almost 10 years since Melodie Wilson started volunteering at Florence House to help serve upwards of 50 women a warm dinner every Wednesday evening. Florence House — a Housing First facility in Portland exclusively for women — opened just shy of a decade ago, with 15 semi-private living spaces, up to 25 emergency shelter beds, and 25 permanent furnished efficiency apartments for chronically homeless women.

“I began volunteering for Florence House after reading about its mission and partnership with L.L.Bean,” says Melodie, an L.L.Bean employee. “I thought it would be a great way to transition into ‘empty nesting’ while learning more about my community and its needs.”

When Florence House first opened, L.L.Bean helped procure many of the furnishings for the apartment units through donations from their home goods store. L.L.Bean was instrumental in making sure the women at Florence House had the comforts they needed to begin their life anew in safe, stable housing. Nearly a decade later, L.L.Bean continues to support Florence House and other Preble Street programs by encouraging its employees to volunteer — we are certainly grateful to have a seasoned veteran volunteer like Melodie!

Melodie helps prepare, serve, and clean up weekly dinners at Florence House. She chops, bakes, and ladles her way through delicious dishes while making the 50+ women who join for a hot meal smile and feel welcome. Florence House kitchen staff member Katherine nominated Melodie to be the volunteer of month saying, “Melodie is a breath of fresh air! She’s ready to do whatever needs to be done and is often one step ahead of me! She’s wonderful at interacting with clients — she exudes a warm, gentle presence everyone picks up on.”

While Melodie is quick to point to the gratitude and perseverance of the clients who live at Florence House as a major motivation for coming back, she is also incredibly generous and kind to the staff. “They’re passionate, and a caring beacon of hope for these women,” she notes. “But I’m often reminded that it’s tough work too, and it’s been nice to be a steady presence for them.’”

Thank you, Melodie, for providing stable support to both the clients and staff at Florence House. You are a wonderful sous-chef and we are so grateful for your many hours of service!

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

Volunteer of the Month: Kristin

At Preble Street, a wellspring of institutional knowledge lives and breathes in the form of volunteers. The Volunteer of the Month for August, Kristin Lindvall, has been volunteering at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen longer than many staff members have been working there. Her kindness towards staff and clients, her endless repertoire of delicious meals, and her voracious work ethic make Kristin one of the most integral and reliable Preble Street volunteers.

Many kitchen staff remember when she taught them how to use the industrial equipment for the first time. One says, “When I started working here, I knew how to cook, but it was Kristin who taught me how to make complicated and delicious meals for 250 people with the ever-changing and limited pantry options we have.”

Kristin’s approach to the people we serve is both empathetic and realistic—being familiar with many of the specific obstacles facing clients at Preble Street informs the work of all staff and volunteers. She is honest and realistic with individuals, and about the broader issues facing our society. Solutions to problems with housing, mental health, and food insecurity are always at the forefront of her mind, and she reminds us all to remain compassionate towards people who are struggling. “She knows many of our clients and treats everyone with dignity and respect,” says a coworker.

Kristin also reminds staff and volunteers to take care of themselves by modeling her own self care. She is excellent about communicating to staff when she needs to take a break. Kristin reminds us all that we cannot serve from an empty cup, and that taking time to take care of ourselves is just as important to our work as the chopping of veggies, the bagging of lunches, and the serving of meals.

As one staff member put it so beautifully, “Kristin is the glue that holds us all together.” Thank you, Kristin, for teaching us all to make delicious food, to lead with grace, and to take care of others by taking care of ourselves.

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

Volunteer of the Month: John

As the old adage goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. In mid-July, with ovens and stoves cranking to cook enough food for the 250+ people who join us for every meal, the Resource Center Soup Kitchen can get hot. But July’s Volunteer of the Month, John Reali, is no stranger to heat in the kitchen—John owned and operated the Village Café, a local favorite for decades on Newbury Street in Portland. Today, we are so lucky to have John preparing lunch for our neighbors three days a week at the Preble Street Resource Center Soup Kitchen, sharing his passion for good food, his infectious humor, and his gracious, humble approach to service.

John is the kind of volunteer who can do whatever is needed, whether it’s chopping a bunch of veggies or creating an entire meal from scratch.

But being good in the kitchen isn’t all it takes to be named a Preble Street Volunteer of the Month. Many can wield a knife or stir a pot, but not everyone can keep a cool head in a busy kitchen environment, especially in the heat of summer. Even in the most chaotic circumstances, John remains completely unflappable and entirely flexible. As one Food Programs staff person said, “I’m always impressed that he shows up to work fully present and engaged in what we are doing.”

An ever-present challenge at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen is the need to create a good, healthy meal out of the random ingredients donated to Preble Street. After running his own restaurant for so many years, John is “an ingenious master of cobbling together ingredients from a limited, ever-changing, and sometimes bizarre pantry of donated foods, successfully cooking meals that not only feed many, but are incredibly delicious,” said Philippa, a Food Programs staff member.

Yet John’s greatest gift, more than his steady hand or his creative approach to cooking, is the incredible balance he maintains between leadership and being lead. Many volunteers who join us in the soup kitchen every day have little to no experience cooking professionally—not even all our talented kitchen staff have John’s breadth and depth of knowledge. He gently directs volunteers of all ages and levels of experience while lending a hand to staff wherever is needed. He does it kindly, and he does it with a smile. “Every shift we work together is a different balance of how much he or I take the lead and he is fine with literally any amount or lack of leadership,” said Food Programs staff member Deena. “He’s humble and flexible.”

John is a leader and mentor to fellow volunteers, an invaluable resource of knowledge and accountability to staff, and a wonderful friend to all who cross his path. When asked what kind of food John would be, staff summed him up perfectly: “A perfectly seasoned tomato sauce, the backbone of a variety of meals… just like John!”

Thank you, John, for your compassion, flexibility, and perfectly seasoned sauces! We could not do it without you.

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

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.

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.