Topic: Soup Kitchens

Pay it forward with kindness

PORTLAND/GORHAM (WGME) — Random acts of kindness and paying it forward.

They’re phrases we’re hearing more and more of these days.

Bottom line is, it seems being rude and having mo manners are on their way out and being nice and thoughtful are in.

So we decided to see if that’s the case in Maine.

In this special report, we hit the streets to see if Mainers pass the Kindness Test.

“Who’s Hungry” advance visit

1391108834This week Portland Ovations hosted performance artist Dan Froot for a whirlwind visit in our fair city. Dan is the co-creator of “Who’s Hungry,” a powerful and provocative puppetry piece that gives a voice to those who suffer from food insecurity that we are presenting in April at and in conjunction with SPACE Gallery.

While “Who’s Hungry” is adapted from the oral histories of five California residents, we are eager to connect the themes of hunger to our own state, which ranks #1 New England for food insecurity. Dan’s advance visit gave him (and Ovations staff) a crash course in what hunger looks like in Maine, as well as the opportunity to meet with and learn about all of the local organizations working tirelessly to effect change.

Our first day with Dan started early, when we all gathered at the Maine Development Foundations’ Leadership UnPlugged to hear Kristen Miale, President of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, deliver staggering statistics on childhood hunger in Maine. From there, we went to SPACE Gallery for chance to see the performance space; given the unconventional staging coupled with the unconventional space, this was a vital visit to make sure all goes smoothly. The afternoon gave way to an intensive meeting with members of our advisory council – staff of Preble Street, SPACE, United Way, Blunt Youth Radio, Pierce Atwood, Cultivating Community and Portland Public Schools all came together to learn more about our project and April residency, and brainstorm how we can work together to effectively present “Who’s Hungry” to our community, by examining issues of access, context, and lasting impact.

The next day included a tour of Preble Street and its numerous facilities and services, as well as a valuable meeting with Advocate Leaders of Homeless Voices for Justice. Dan also visited the East End Community School, where their practices (universal breakfast in the classroom; calm, quiet lunches where kids can just focus on the experience of eating) have had a huge change on their students. Dan closed out his trip with a meeting with Cultivating Community to learn about their expansive community food work.

Our two days with Dan Froot provided an ESSENTIAL opportunity to acquaint artist and community, laying the groundwork for a thought-provoking performance and impactful residency with the Portland community. We are grateful to everyone who contributed their time and their unique expertise and insights.

Dan Froot’s advance visit was made possible in part by support from the National Performance Network (NPN) Community Fund. For more information: www.npnweb.org.

Portland Ovations to Partner with Community for Maine’s Food Insecurity Issues

The performing arts are the one of the most compelling ways to communicate stories of the human condition, whether through dance, music, acting, even puppetry. This April, Portland Ovations – the non-profit performing arts presenter – brings Who’s Hungry, a powerful and provocative play utilizing tabletop puppet-theater to SPACE Gallery. Who’s Hungry tells the story of those of us who, on a daily basis, must choose between life’s basic necessities- food or rent, food or medicine, food or bus fare.

Last week one of the play’s co-creators, Dan Froot, came to Portland for a two-day advance visit in order to better understand hunger in Maine, which currently ranks #1 for food insecurity in New England and 18th nationwide. A pivotal portion of his visit was a half-day retreat with a project advisory council composed of key staff from Portland Ovations, Preble Street, SPACE Gallery, United Way, Portland Public Schools Dining Services, Pierce Atwood, BLUNT Youth Radio, and Cultivating Community. Pierce Atwood, who is sponsoring the presentation of Who’s Hungry, and has longstanding relationships with both Preble Street and Portland Ovations, hosted the retreat.

Aimée M. Petrin, Portland Ovations Executive Director, is thrilled that so many key organizations want to help raise awareness of this serious issue. "This work-session has been incredible," Petrin observed, "to have a cross-sector of community organizations coming together to stimulate a new conversation on this pervasive issue and recognizing the power of the arts in social justice is very moving and exciting."

While in Portland, Froot made site-visits to several of Ovations’ community partners including Preble Street to meet those affected by hunger, poverty and homelessness and those working tirelessly to combat it, as well as East End Community School to learn how the Portland schools are taking proactive measures to address hunger that affects many of their students.

"Having the opportunity for an advance visit to Portland, and to collaborate with the network of community partners that Portland Ovations put together, was profoundly productive," Froot noted, "We brainstormed concrete action steps toward curating activities that contextualize the show itself for Portland audiences in particular; amplifying the missions of our partners through our residency; bringing economically diverse audiences to our performance. I am awed by the way Portland Ovations was able to leverage participation in the community."

For Petrin, "this was an eye opening and powerful two days, discussing hunger in Maine and how it affects more than 15 % of Maine households and 23.9 % of Maine’s children. We’ve learned that it’s an enormous, growing problem. Our goal of bringing Who’s Hungry to Portland is to raise awareness of the issue, bring a new perspective to the conversation, and hopefully change perceptions of who is hungry among us. We’ve learned that in many ways food insecurity is invisible."

Portland Ovations presents Who’s Hungry in collaboration with SPACE Gallery on April 10, 11 and 12, 2014. Seating is very limited. Tickets are $18 for Ovations’ Members and $20 for the general public. Who’s Hungry is sponsored by Pierce Atwood with support provided by Center for Cultural Exchange Foundation, National Performance Network and New England Foundation for the Arts. To purchase tickets, visit www.portlandovations.org, call PortTIX at 207-842-0800, or stop by the box office window at Merrill Auditorium.

Food stamp reductions cause ripple effect in Maine

1383664621PORTLAND (WGME) — Federal stimulus money that beefed up the food stamp program years ago expired Friday.

It’s called the Hunger Cliff and hunger advocates say we have fallen over the edge.

Paul Trusiani has spent almost every day of the past four decades greeting customers inside his small supermarket on Congress Street in Portland. It’s his business to know what his customers are dealing with and right now he says it’s hunger. “They’re concerns are being able to have enough to eat,” Trusiani said.

He says most of his customers receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. “Sometimes its their last dollar, their last food stamp dollar,” Trusiani said.

And now – those dollars are fewer. The 250,000 Mainers using the program will get less money for food.

“We’re getting $189 in food stamps,” explained Brenda and James Pushard who live in Sagamore Falls. They’re losing about $13 a month. “He’s a diabetic and that means I cant feed him the right way,” Brenda said about her husband.

With these reductions, a family of four could lose up to $36 a month and a family of two could lose up to $20 a month. And with less money to spend on food, more people will turn to community soup kitchens.

“Never mind today’s cuts, yesterday was a crisis, today makes it worse,” explained Amy Gallant with the Preble Street Resource Center. She says Preble Street served more people this week than ever before, breaking a dinner record of 500 meals in one night.

“We’re running out of plates, we’re running out of chairs,” she said.

And Gallant says the cuts will put an even bigger strain on already limited resources. “Everything is operating at capacity and we now that next month we will see even higher numbers,” she explained.

Customers at Paul’s admit they might have to use community food banks for help, which means shorter lines at checkout in the supermarket.

And Trusiani knows what that means for him. It will affect our business, Trusiani said. No question about that.

Mainers to see cut in SNAP benefits

PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) – Mainers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are about to take a big hit because the federal stimulus package is expiring.

More than $30 million a month goes to Maine residents through SNAP, or what’s commonly known as food stamps, but there will be big cuts across the board starting Nov. 1.

A family of four receiving the maximum benefit of $668 a month in October will see a $36 reduction.

Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the country and the highest rate in New England. With reductions on the way and the possibility of more cuts down the road, people who rely on the program said they are worried.

Jocelyn Harrington is a mother of four who works and goes to school full time. She’s also one of 250,000 Mainers who received SNAP benefits.

"I’ve always been in a 40-hour position and a couple of months ago, our hours were cut," Harrington said.

The cuts could be anywhere from $1 a month for someone receiving the minimum benefit to 5 percent for those who get the maximum amount, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

For a family of four like Harrington’s, that would mean $36 less per month.

"It’s frustrating for people like me who do work a lot, but we can’t make it because minimum wage doesn’t pay the bills for a four-person family," Harrington said.

The House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would cut the food assistance program by $40 billion over 10 years, removing tens of thousands of Maine residents from the program, possibly Harrington’s family too. The Senate has not voted on the bill yet.

Some people in Maine said if the bill passes, it would force them into soup kitchens and food pantries.

"If that happened, I would be back to eating all of my meals at the soup kitchen," said Thomas Ptacek, who uses SNAP benefits. "I would be back to going to the food pantry to get whatever food I could have."

Food pantries are already seeing more people and a greater need. In Biddeford, the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry has seen a 17 percent increase since last year.

"They’re coming in here, they’re supposed to come here once a month, but now they find themselves having to come here more than once a month," said Don Bisson of the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry.

Residents who receive SNAP benefits will be notified of exactly how the reductions will affect them. The Office for Family Independence plans to send notifications beginning early next week.

Proposed SNAP Cuts Worry Maine Recipients

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote today on a Republican proposal to slash $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. Critics say it will result in four million low-income seniors, veterans, children and their families losing food stamps benefits. The move comes at a time when Maine is among the states seeing the most widespread use of food stamps.

At the St. Mary’s food pantry in Lewiston, it’s just before closing time and several people have lined up to get emergency boxes of food. The number of items they get is determined by the number of people in the family.

Philly, who declined to give his last name, has three. He’s getting a pack of hot dogs, some pasta and a few other items that are packed by volunteers.

“I don’t have my foodstamps yet, so I had to come up here to do something so I can eat,” he says.

Philly says he also relies on the charity of several churches to help feed his family. It’s a story that’s not uncommon in Maine, where 250,000 people – or one in five residents – qualify for SNAP benefits, and where food pantries and soup kitchens help pick up the slack.

Kristen Walter is the director of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center that runs the largest pantry in the Lewiston-Auburn area five days a week.

“We see around an average of 375 families a week,” Walter says. “But what we really see as a notable trend is that it’s the last week before SNAP benefits are renewed are our busiest by far, and that’s because SNAP benefits don’t go far enough to support families in feeding their family for the month.”

In Maine, the average SNAP benefit is about $125 a month, according to Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s office. But according to a 2012 Gallup poll, Americans in general report spending about $150 on groceries each week.

Mary Turner of Auburn is a food stamp recipient who is disabled and says she often runs out of food. “By the end of the month you are scraping bottom,” she says.

Susan Sharon: “What are you eating?”

Mary Turner: “Lot of times, you know, tuna fish or cereal – sometimes you ain’t even got the milk for that, you know?”

Turner volunteers at St. Mary’s food pantry in return for a box of food each week. Without SNAP, and without the extra help, she says, she and her disabled husband and their young grandson would not have anything to eat. As it is, she says she occasionally skips meals in order to feed her grandson.

“To really be strapped, and at the end of the month not to know where your next meal is coming from, it’s real hard,” Turner says. “If you lose your SNAP, you’ve lost everything. So many children are going to go hungry.”

In a written statement criticizing the proposed cuts to the food stamp program, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said she doesn’t know where additional money to assist hungry families will come from. She points out that the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland has seen demand rise 60 percent at its soup kitchen over the last three years.

Demand has also doubled for the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which supplies food pantries and soup kitchens across Maine. “Republicans say private charities will pick up the slack but they’ve already done everything they can do,” Pingree says. Kristen Walter of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center agrees.

“Charity is a really important piece of the puzzle, but we are already stretched very thin across the state and across the nation, trying to feed the people that need the extra assistance,” Walter says. “But, really, we need to have these more stable systems like SNAP that families can rely on so they aren’t in an emergency situation all the time.”

In addition to the food pantry, St. Mary’s also runs a dozen community gardens in Lewiston, helping more than 100 low-income families grow their own vegetables. The gardens are located near public housing complexes so residents can have easy access. But the gardens can’t be grown year-round in Maine where Walter says SNAP is still the most efficient method of distributing food to needy people.

Compassion by design: Portland’s coffee community, others come to Preble Street’s aid

PORTLAND – When word got out a few weeks ago that Preble Street would have to temporarily close its soup kitchen, more than two dozen local businesses, churches, schools and other organizations rallied to help.

Preble Street was being forced to shut the kitchen for four days to replace aging floors and make other renovations. But who would feed the kitchen’s clients, who often number more than 500 for a single meal?

Portland law firm Verrill Dana volunteered to make 1,000 sandwiches. Hannaford Bros. supermarkets donated food. Sacred Heart Church on Mellen Street agreed to serve as a temporary kitchen, and the U.S. Coast Guard offered to move supplies.

A week before the kitchen’s scheduled closing on Sept. 13, preparations seemed on track. But one problem remained, Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann realized.

There was no coffee.

In desperation, Swann turned to Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee By Design, which operates three coffee houses in the city. Forget the espresso in a demitasse cup: Swann needed gallons of coffee, enough to serve hundreds of diners at a total of 16 meals.

"We realized it was a pretty big ask," Swann said Monday, as volunteers prepared to serve a final dinner at Sacred Heart. "It was a lot of coffee, a lot of meals, plus we were asking for it to be brewed."

Coffee By Design regularly donates its wares to Preble Street, but the request was just too much to handle alone. So Lindemann turned to her competitors.

"I didn’t say no, I said, ‘let me figure out how we can make this happen,’" she said. "And I started making phone calls."

Almost overnight, some of the leaders in Portland’s piping-hot coffee industry joined forces to roast and brew an estimated 80 pounds of donated coffee – about 3,200 cups.

Besides CBD, the coffee coalition included such well-known roasters as Arabica, Bard Coffee, Crema, Matt’s Coffee, Tandem Coffee and Wicked Joe. A local paper distributor provided cups, and Oakhurst Dairy volunteered to supply the milk and cream.

Each coffee company contributed what it could, some more, some less. "Coffee is expensive … you give what you can, what is meaningful to you," Lindemann said.

The alliance led to some unlikely scenarios. Competitors teamed up to deliver the coffee on time for each meal. Some roasters didn’t have the equipment to brew large volumes, so others stepped in to help.

On Monday, CBD head roaster Dylan Hardman found himself brewing a vat of decaf – from beans supplied by Arabica.

"That’s OK, it’s all good," he said with a smile.

The surprising pairings aren’t that surprising to Swann.

"People said, this is a critical need, there must be something we can do," he said. "(The coffee donation) fits with Portland’s sense of generosity. People here want to help, to step up, and make a statement about the kind of community we are."

The makeshift kitchen was serving slightly fewer clients than Preble Street’s usual mealtime crowd on Monday, a result of some clients probably wanting to remain in a familiar neighborhood, according to Swann.

"But everything has gone smoothly," he said. "People are getting fed. That’s the important thing."

Businesses helping feed the homeless

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — More than two dozen businesses, churches and schools are answering the call to help feed the homeless while Portland’s largest soup kitchen is temporarily closed.

Employees at Verrill Dana spent their lunch break making sandwiches — a lot of sandwiches.

24-hundred pieces of bread and 12-hundred slices of luncheon meat and cheese all donated by Hannaford Supermarkets. Dozens and dozens of sandwiches were loaded into coolers and headed out the door.

‘We know a small effort on our part makes a big difference for the people who need it,’ said Gretchen Johnson, the marketing director at Verrill Dana.

The law firm is one of more than 25 businesses, churches and schools who are rallying around Preble Street Resource Center. The Center’s soup kitchen will be closed for renovations for four days beginning Friday morning through Monday evening.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served at the Sacred Heart Church on Mellen Street in Portland, beginning Friday through Monday evening. Meals will resume at the Preble Street Resource Center on Tuesday morning.