Topic: Soup Kitchens

Lunch break for kids

WINDHAM – Laura Smith knows how hard it can be to stretch a fixed budget during the summer.

Mason Stoddard, 11, and Nickolas Keene, 3, picnic outside Little Falls Landing senior housing in Windham on Friday. This is the first summer that free lunches have been provided every weekday at the Windham site for children age 18 and under.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald Staff Photographer

Matthew Keene, 6, of Windham chooses an apple at the free lunch at Little Falls Landing on Friday.

 

 

HUNGRY CHILDREN IN MAINE, BY THE NUMBERS

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

 Students eligible for free lunch: 11,100 (28 percent)

 Students eligible for reduced-price lunch: 1,754 (4 percent)

STATEWIDE

 Students eligible for free lunch: 71,989 (38 percent)

 Students eligible for reduced-price lunch: 12,742 (7 percent)

Source: Maine Department of Education

 Children younger than 18 living in poverty: 48,733 (18 percent)

 Children younger than 5 living in poverty: 15,752 (23 percent)

 Children receiving Food Supplement Program benefits: 75,889 (28 percent)

 Children eligible for free and reduced-price lunch: 84,731 (45 percent)

 Maine has the sixth-highest rate of hunger in the United States and the highest rate of hunger in New England.

 Nearly 200,000 Mainers are unable to afford consistent and adequate nutrition.

Source: Maine Hunger Initiative

During the school year, two of her three children get free lunch at school. In the summer, it’s up to her to put those meals on the table.

But for the first time, Smith can take her children to Little Falls Landing for a free lunch each weekday. It’s one of a growing number of summertime free-lunch programs in Maine that are trying to reach the nearly 85,000 children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year.

There are now 242 summer meal sites in Maine, up from 224 last summer, according to the Maine Department of Education.

During the school year, 100 percent of the 85,000 children get fed. In the summer, when school is out, that drops to 16 percent, illustrating the need for additional sites, said Gail Lombardi, the Department of Education’s program manager for Child Nutrition Services.

State Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who sponsored legislation that provides guidance to schools for setting up summer meal programs, said, "Students are hungry all year, not just during the school calendar. We must do everything we can to end food insecurity in our communities."

Alfond said he sponsored the legislation because it was clear that eligible schools weren’t taking advantage of available federal funding, which provides $3.25 reimbursement for every meal served.

A study last year by the Maine Center for Economic Policy showed that while the state received $1.1 million in federal funds through the Summer Food Service Program, another $10 million would have been available if additional meal sites had been operating.

"While we’ve had some success in expanding the number of sites, the sad reality is that we also have more kids who are hungry now than a year ago," said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. "It’s pretty clear there’s more that can be done."

Cumberland County has 58 summer meal sites, 40 of which operate where at least half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. They are open to any child 18 or younger, regardless of need.

The Maine Hunger Initiative supports 24 of those sites, including 12 new sites, said Michelle Lamm, program manager for the Maine Hunger Initiative. Those new programs are primarily in the Lakes Region, where the rural nature of the towns can prevent children from getting to the sites easily.

To address that problem in Windham, the Maine Hunger Initiative worked with Saint Joseph’s College’s Bon Appetit meal service and Avesta to serve lunch on the lawn outside of the Little Falls Landing senior housing. Most of the approximately 15 kids who showed up each day this week walked from the neighborhood across the street.

A group of children sprinted across the lawn at exactly noon Friday, eager to grab bag lunches from the residents who volunteer to serve meals and play games. As the children spread out on blankets on the lawn to eat turkey sandwiches, their parents socialized nearby.

Laura Smith came with her children and several others from the neighborhood who needed an adult to walk with them.

"There’s a lot of people in my neighborhood who can’t afford a balanced lunch," Smith said. "It’s awesome to know this is at least one balanced meal they can have."

Lamm said the program in Windham is unique because of its connection to a senior housing complex.

Windham schools didn’t qualify for a summer meal site because fewer than 50 percent of their students qualify for free lunch. But Lamm said program organizers recognized there were children in town who could benefit from free meals. The area around Little Falls Landing was chosen because of its concentration of low-income housing and residents.

Eden Slater, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker with the Maine Hunger Initiative who supervises the Lakes Region sites, said turnout in Windham is impressive for a new program. Site supervisors have added games and activities to make lunchtime more fun for children.

As at many sites, most of the children who come for lunch in Windham are younger than 10. Teenagers are less likely to show up because they want to hang out with their friends, not at a meal site, Lamm said.

Organizers at sites across the county are trying to address that problem by running basketball tournaments, showing movies and encouraging teenagers to bring friends for lunch. Volunteers printed 10,000 fliers and distributed them to families through schools and by canvassing neighborhoods.

"The word is starting to get out more, but it can still fly under the radar," Lamm said.

Charlotte Simpson, property manager at Little Falls Landing, said residents seem to enjoy helping with the program and getting to know the children. They are hoping that more families will discover the program and join them for lunch.

"I’d like to see more teenagers because you know they’re hungry too," she said.

Lombardi said the Department of Education is contacting site sponsors and trying to find new organizations to open additional meal sites.

Providing free meals can take pressure off food pantries that struggle to provide extra food to families during the summer, and can help children learn better, she said.

"We know from research that children who participate in the summer meal program are more ready to return to school than children who do not participate," she said. "A lack of food in the summer can contribute to behavioral issues and higher loss of learning during the summer. With poor nutrition, they seem to lose more of that learning."

School wasn’t on 8-year-old Kylee Keene’s mind as she ate lunch with friends Friday in Windham. She gobbled up her sandwich and yogurt before joining in a game of "Simon says."

"It’s fun to have lunch here because we have friends here and there’s games," she said. "It’s a good lunch."

 Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted by phone at 791-6315, by email at ggraham@mainetoday.com or through Twitter at grahamgillian.

Emma Johnson ’14, a Bowdoin College ‘Community Matters in Maine’ Fellow Helps the Hungry

This summer, Emma Johnson ’14 received a Community Matters in Maine Summer Fellowship from Bowdoin to work for Preble Street, a Portland-based organization fighting hunger and homelessness. Executive Director Mark Swann, class of 1984, helped found Preble Street in the early 1990s, and this year was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his work. In 2001, Swann also received Bowdoin’s Common Good Award, which honors alumni who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the common good with disregard for personal gains.

Johnson, an anthropology major and gender and women’s studies minor, said that just three weeks into her job she has become even more certain she will dedicate her career to working in the nonprofit sector and helping people.

Bowdoin Daily Sun: What initially sparked your interest in this internship, this fellowship?

Emma Johnson: I knew I wanted to do some sort of internship, or job, or volunteering with a nonprofit, because that’s what I want to do eventually for my career. So I was researching on the McKeen Center website and found the Community Matters in Maine program. I read descriptions of all the different groups McKeen was working with, and I went to all their websites, and I thought that Preble Street would be the one I had the most experience with and knowledge about. Last summer, I worked for the United Way [near] my hometown [in Southhampton, Mass.], and I did a lot of work with hunger and especially childhood hunger and nutrition – so not quite what Preble Street is doing, but I was familiar with the low-income, poverty aspect.

BDS: Why do you think a nonprofit career is in your future?

EJ: I enjoy it. I’ve always liked volunteering, doing community service. I strongly believe that your career should be something that is benefiting society as a whole, and for me that has always been a clear path to nonprofit work or some sort of social work. And so far, Preble Street has been amazing in terms of affirming my desire to continue with this.

BDS: Why has it been so powerful in affirming your commitment?

EJ: This might sound cliché, but when you’re there at Preble Street, it’s really inspirational every day to be around the people you’re helping; you can see the direct impacts of the work you’re doing. Working with the United Way last summer, I knew I was doing good things, and you could see the data, but working at Preble Street you are in the middle of it.

And Preble Street itself is a really amazing organization because of the variety of things it does. And the tactics it uses are, I think, pretty unique. I don’t know that much about similar organizations, but I do know that Preble Street is a place homeless people can go when they can’t go elsewhere. The main philosophy is low barrier, so if you need help there, they’ll give you help no matter what.

BDS: What do you do on a daily basis?

EJ: It changes every day. I’m working for the Maine Hunger Initiative mostly, which is an organization within Preble Street that deals with hunger throughout Maine.

The two projects I’ve been working on the most have been the summer-meals program, where they’re bringing free, federally funded meals to low-income areas. The government will reimburse sponsors who bring free meals to areas where there [are many] students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year, so that they have an option in the summer when they can’t get food. What Maine Hunger is doing is finding the sites – a school, community center, park, or even street corner – where [the food can be distributed], finding volunteers to facilitate it, finding organizations that are willing to make the food.

I’ve also been working a lot with what we call the Farm-to-Pantry program where we have a grant to buy fresh produce from local farms and bring it to different food pantries in Cumberland County.

Also, I’ve been volunteering in a lot for the different Preble Street organizations: working at the Teen Center, making meals there, or volunteering in the soup kitchen or in the food pantry.

BDS: What has been the most satisfying part of the internship?

EJ: It might just be working in the kitchen, talking to people, the clients. Because I’m with the Maine Hunger Initiative, I don’t get as much interaction with the clients. There are case workers much more focused on that. But Preble Street strives to get everyone – admin, Maine Hunger Initiative, other groups that are less focused on the clients themselves – into the [soup kitchen or food pantry at the] Resource Center and Teen Center as much as possible, so you can remember what you’re working for. And it’s really powerful to be there and see how it runs.

BDS: What’s been the most challenging part of the job?

EJ: It’s probably the other side of the same coin: dealing with clients. Though it’s satisfying to talk to them and hear their stories, some of it is really hard. Even just something as small as when you’re serving dinner or serving lunch in the kitchen, and you say you can only have one piece of chicken, you know a lot of the times this is probably this person’s only meal today.

I like working in the food pantry. But it’s extremely difficult because there are so few resources. Everyone at Preble Street says it’s the most empty it’s ever been. Even though they do pick-ups every Thursday at several different grocery stores and they have tons of donations, [the amount of food] is so little and it’s trying to feed so many people. So saying you can’t have a second bunch of lettuce is really hard.

BDS: How do you see the internship fitting into your long-term goals?

EJ: I don’t know where I’ll end up but this internship and working at Preble Street has given me an idea of all the different ways you can do nonprofit work. Just within the organization, you have the social work, the case workers; you have the more action/volunteer-type work, which would be the food pantry and soup kitchen and working in the Resource Center; and you also have advocacy, which is probably where I would go if I have a choice. It is more removed from the clients, but in my opinion you can do a lot more with it.

BDS: How will you get there?

EJ: Most people in the organization have social work degrees of some sort. After I graduate, I’ll do a couple years of Peace Corps or something along those lines, international traveling or volunteering of some sort, and then I’ll probably go to grad school. There are some good nonprofit management degrees.

BDS: How have you changed because of this experience?

EJ: I already think I’ve gained some perspective, certainly, about homelessness and hunger in Maine, and to a smaller extent in the country. There’s a lot I didn’t know about it that I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks. I knew hunger was a serious problem and I knew it affected a lot more people than is generally thought, but I didn’t realize how many ways there are to combat it. For example, I’m pretty sure I’m eligible for food supplement benefits. So many people are eligible who don’t take advantage of it. Even though hunger is getting harder and harder to deal with because of the shrinking pool of resources, and less and less support is going to nonprofits and places trying to combat it, there’s a lot of options.

[Another thing] that’s changed my perspective is I’ve realized there’s a lot of wrong ways to do social work. And I might be biased, or probably quite biased, but is seems to me that Preble Street is doing it the right way. There’s a lot of ways to mess it up. For example, forcing people to get clean before they enter housing – it’s just too hard for some people. Preble Street’s philosophy in regards to housing is "housing first," which assumes if you have a stable place to live, to at least sleep inside that belongs to you, then you can start to get clean, then you can get a job, then you can reconnect to your family.

Southern Maine soup kitchens and food pantries to get emergency federal aid

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced this week that soup kitchens and food pantries in southern Maine will be getting some lost federal funding restored.  Pingree said federal officials have agreed to dip into some unspent funds to help organizations in Cumberland County meet a growing demand for their services.  Last summer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed the way they distributed funding for food and shelterprograms, resulting in a complete loss of funding for a number of Maine counties, including Cumberland County.  FEMA adopted a funding formula that favors urban areas over rural communities.

“The formula FEMA is using just isn’t fair to Maine,” said Pingree.  “We lost nearly 60 percent of our funding, while the rest of New England saw much, much smaller cuts.  Shelters and food pantries are struggling right now and this was not the time to pull the rug out from under them.”

Pingree and Congressman Mike Michaud wrote to FEMA last year protesting the change in formula and the funding cuts, and asking FEMA to allocate funding that was “unallocated”— mostly money that was turned back to FEMA because the organizations that had received it were not in compliance with federal standards. Recently FEMA agreed to release $93,000 of unallocated funds to Cumberland County.

Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, said they lost about $30,000 in FEMA funding, enough to pay for 50,000 meals.  Swann welcomed the news that federal officials had agreed to restore some of the lost funding.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and the need now is greater than I’ve ever seen it.  Demand is up by about 50 percent over two years ago and this is the worst possible time to suddenly lose that federal funding. Congresswoman Pingree has been relentless in pushing FEMA and gave us the idea of going for these unallocated funds, which means at least some of the lost emergency funding is going to be restored,” said Swann.

Joanna Moore from CrossWalk Community Outreach in Naples said she was disappointed the funding had been cut last year but relieved to hear that at least some of it is being restored.

“I cannot tell you just how astounded I was to hear that our voices were heard in Washington. When news hit last year that funding had been completely cut from six counties in Maine, including Cumberland County, and that we would be losing all this federal funding, we were feeling quite discouraged. We didn’t understand the full implications of this cut until in the fall of 2011 the demand for free, nutritious meals, and food boxes steadily rose over 40 percent, and would continue on that trend throughout all of 2012. We were caught in a dilemma,” said Moore.

In addition to $93,000 in funding being released to CumberlandCounty, federal officials said they were sending about $10,000 to Franklin County to help with food and shelter programs there.

Federal grant will cover nearly 47,000 more meals at Cumberland County soup kitchens

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Monday that $93,000 in federal grant money will be used to pay for 46,500 meals at soup kitchens and food pantries in Cumberland County.

The news comes three days before a community forum held by Portland’s task force on homelessness, a group created by city officials to grapple with issues facing the homeless at a time when demand for shelter space has reached an all-time high. According to the city, donations to area shelters are down by as much as a third this year, despite the fact that the homeless population of Portland has risen by 20 percent over the past four years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the $93,000 in grant money to Cumberland County Emergency Food and Shelter National Board and the United Way of Greater Portland, which will distribute the funds to local organizations such as Preble Street in Portland, Catherine’s Cupboard in Standish, and Mission Possible Teen Center in Westbrook.

“The number of people needing critical services such as food and shelter has never been higher, and this funding will provide some measure of relief to a system that is particularly strained right now,” said Suzanne McCormick, president of United Way of Greater Portland and a member of the city’s homelessness task force, in a statement. “Sen. Collins has once again demonstrated her deep commitment to the well-being of all Maine citizens.”

The Thursday night forum, at which the task force will update the public on its work and seek ways to better prevent homelessness, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library.

Collins said Monday that FEMA also awarded more than $10,000 for similar hunger and homeless aid programs in Franklin County. Lisa Laflin, executive director of the United Way of the Tri Valley Area, said the grant money will provide more than 2,300 vulnerable individuals in Franklin County additional meals each month.

“The weak economy has been tough on families across the country and Maine is no exception,” said Collins in a statement. “We have seen an increase in students who qualify for free lunch, high unemployment, and less food going to more people at our food pantries. We think of FEMA as helping American recover from storms, but, in this case, these grants will help Mainers ride out our struggling economy.”

The Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative survey of more than 700 people accessing food pantries in Cumberland County recently revealed that 52 percent of families receiving emergency food are employed but don’t make enough to cover regular meals.

Natural Foodie: Employee gardens encourage dirty hands, warm hearts

For the second year, Patty Cook is gardening on company time.

A manager at Idexx Laboratories, Cook is one of hundreds of employees cultivating crops for local food pantries behind the global veterinary testing company’s sprawling corporate headquarters in Westbrook.

"We delivered to the Sagamore (Village) Food Pantry last year," Cook said. "It was amazing to see the looks on people’s faces when we came in with bags of vegetables."

Last year, Idexx employees grew more than 500 pounds of fresh vegetables in organic garden plots at the business, and they donated to food pantries throughout Cumberland and York counties. All this produce came from just 10 raised garden beds.

The program started because employees thought the grounds could use some sprucing up.

"We got a lot of unsolicited feedback about the appearance of the grounds," said Idexx operations manager Matt Haas. "So we focused on the landscaping and getting people to adopt (various areas of the grounds). And then they said, ‘Can we do a garden?’ We came up with the idea in 2010, and no one could come up with a reason to say no."

The company’s landscaping contractor, KD Landscaping, installed the raised beds and surrounded them with wood chips and a fence to keep out the deer. The orchard at the front of the garden includes 22 apple, peach and pear trees, which should begin bearing fruit in a few years.

Idexx, a publicly-traded company that employs 1,600 people in Maine and 5,000 people worldwide, started the gardening project last year.

This year, the company’s organic garden has 48 raised beds at two locations and 200 employees participating in the gardening project. Six of those beds will produce salad greens, edible flowers and herbs that will be used in the company’s cafeteria.

All the rest will be donated to the Harvest for Hunger program, which brings fresh vegetables and fruits to those in need in Maine.

FILLING A GROWING NEED

"The number of people needing assistance to get their food needs met has risen dramatically in Maine," said Barbara Murphy, an educator with the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, which runs the Harvest for Hunger program (formerly known as Plant A Row for the Hungry).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 200,000 Mainers – more than 15 percent of Maine households – are classified as food insecure, meaning they don’t always know where their next meal will come from. The number is even higher for children, with 25 percent falling into the food insecure category.

"Hunger doesn’t look like people’s images of it," Murphy said. "It’s not swollen bellies and big eyes. In Maine, it usually represents poor nutrition, such as people not having money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s the niche Harvest for Hunger is trying to fill."

Last year, the program collected 200,093 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, which it distributed to food pantries, soup kitchens and individuals. Some of the food is grown in private gardens; some comes from community garden plots. A number of farmers allow volunteers onto their farms after the harvest to glean any remaining edibles for donation to the program.

And a small but growing number of Harvest for Hunger gardens are located on corporate property.

REAPING A ROOFTOP HARVEST

In the midst of Portland’s bustling Old Port, Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, a nonprofit health plan, is using a rooftop deck to grow organic vegetables for the Harvest for Hunger program. The raised beds were installed in 2010 and expanded in 2011 to include four planting areas.

"Last year, we donated about 63½ pounds to Preble Street (soup kitchen)," said Tony Fournier, a Harvard Pilgrim representative who coordinates the gardening effort. "That was inclusive of a lot of green and red leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers.

"We were growing some really cool squash plants and they were big, but powdery mildew attacked the plants, and they stopped growing. The year before, with just two beds, we donated 72½ pounds."

Because gardening is much more of an art than a science subject to the ever-changing whims of nature, the Harvard Pilgrim gardens face a new challenge this year: Seagulls.

The weekend before the employees were to begin planting, a pair of seagulls decided that the soft soil in one of the raised beds made a perfect nesting site. Now the nest has two speckled eggs and two very protective parents.

That particular bed will have to lie fallow until the seagulls clear out. "We’ve learned to live with them," Fournier said.

Twenty-five employees work at Harvard Pilgrim’s Market Street office, and five of them are helping with the garden.

"The good thing about these beds is you can use them year round if you create a canopy over them," Fournier said. "We’re planning on growing spinach throughout the winter."

The third business growing food for the Harvest for Hunger program is the Oxford County Federal Credit Union. Its employees will be tending gardens at the branches in Norway and Mexico and donating all the produce to Harvest for Hunger.

CORPORATE GIANTS JUMP ON BOARD

Around the country, an increasing number of companies are providing space and time for employees to garden. Corporations including Google, Kohl’s and PepsiCo have started workplace gardens in recent years.

"By our count, there are certainly hundreds of companies across the United States that are doing it," said Fred Haberman, who runs a marketing firm in Minneapolis and maintains the Employer Sponsored Gardens website (www.employergardens.com) as a resource hub for other companies looking to start gardens.

"There’s been an increase in companies that have started gardens in the last few years. I think you’re going to see a dramatic increase in the next 20 years of not just corporate gardens but rooftop gardens."

Haberman said corporations gain a number of benefits from offering gardening programs. These include promoting healthy eating, helping the community and building better working relationships among employees.

"It’s a great engagement tool," Haberman said. "It’s a great get-to-know you tool. You’re creating something together. How can you not at some level create a deeper relationship with your fellow worker when you do that?"

Harvard Pilgrim first planted gardens at its offices in Quincy and Wellesley, Mass., in 2009, and now advocates that other companies do the same as a way to support better employee health, reduce workplace stress and encourage collaboration with fellow employees.

Back at Idexx, where the gardens were planted two weeks ago, Loni Brown, who works in information technology, said being involved in the effort helps get her and other employees on their feet and in the fresh air more often.

"It’s also nice to meet other people from other departments," Brown said. "Idexx is so large, our paths don’t often cross."

Brown and the other employees on her team are growing pole beans, summer squash, carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and beets.

"It’s a great feeling for the community," Brown said. "It’s easy to do, and you can see something positive coming out of it."

PAID TIME FOR VOLUNTEERS

Each year, all Idexx employees receive 16 hours of paid time to volunteer at nonprofits, and many of the gardeners use that time to tend to the plants. Others head out to the garden during breaks, lunch or whenever they can fit in a visit.

"We’re starting our first garden at home, and this has been crucial in learning about gardening," said Ryan Root, who is volunteering in the Idexx garden for the first time this year.

As part of Idexx’s educational series for garden participants, Root was trained as a master composter. After the training, "I went right home and took my compost all apart," Root said. "I was doing it all wrong. If you do it right, there isn’t any smell."

In contrast, Peter Dale has been an avid organic gardener for more than 25 years. He is one of the Idexx employees who logs onto an online company bulletin board to answer gardening questions.

"Every year is different," Dale said. "The bugs are different. The weather is different. This year, everything is early."

The team of which Root and Cook are part is growing basil, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and hot peppers.

"Hot peppers were a big hit last year," Cook said. "The Sagamore Food Pantry gave us a list of what people liked, and that’s what we’re growing."

The team plans to do multiple plantings this season, ensuring a steady harvest through the fall.

"It’s fun to get together and come out here and mess around," Cook said. "It broke down barriers among co-workers."

According to Amy Witt, a Cooperative Extension horticulturist who helped Idexx start the Harvest for Hunger gardens, the company has reaped numerous benefits.

"Not only are they filling a need, but at Idexx they’ve developed some really good relationships," Witt said. "It’s really helped with the Idexx employees. It’s really strengthened them as employees and work teams. The employees find themselves to be more productive.

"It’s been a win-win for a the business and a win-win for the people who need the food."

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

Portland councilors weigh grant requests

PORTLAND – Facing more than $3 million in funding requests, the City Council will have to make difficult choices April 9.

That’s when councilors will vote on City Manager Mark Rees’ proposal for distributing about $1.8 million in federal Community Development Block Grants.

Rees is recommending that the money be spent on a variety of community development projects, social service programs and job creation initiatives.

According to information on the city’s website, Portland’s grant allocation for 2012-13 is $416,890 less than it received for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Meanwhile, Rees said, the recession has caused an even greater need for job creation and child care.

"The national decrease in Community Development Block Grant funding has made this a difficult funding year," Rees said in a letter to Mayor Michael Brennan and the City Council. "Despite the high quality and worthiness of applicants, there is simply not enough funding to assist all those who applied."

In November, the city’s CDBG Annual Allocation Committee began reviewing and scoring more than 40 applications for funding in three categories — social services, community development, and economic development or job creation.

The committee said applicants sought $3.1 million in federal funds, leaving a gap of $1.3 million between available funding and requests.

Committee members forwarded their recommendations to Rees, who said he agreed with the majority of their suggestions.

Rees said he removed one development funding request from the list, saying that investing $248,860 to install street lights on Cumberland Avenue would be more effectively handled through the city’s capital improvement plan.

Advocates say the lights are needed to make the street safer.

Several representatives of agencies spoke at a hearing held by the council Monday night.

Donna Yellen, the Preble Street Resource Center’s advocacy director, thanked the city for supporting the agency, whose mission is to help the homeless.

Preble Street is in line for $180,000 to support its soup kitchen, resource center and Lighthouse Shelter — for homeless and runaway teenagers — and to renovate the soup kitchen’s floor and bathrooms.

Rees is recommending $188,000 for window replacement and restoration of the entrance to the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery.

Lynne Holler, who serves on the nursery’s board of directors, said the facility on Danforth Street is the oldest licensed child care establishment in Maine. It opened in 1922 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rees is also recommending $96,000 to repair leaky windows at the Portland Observatory, which was built in 1807. The observatory is a national historic landmark.

Not everyone who asked for grant money got recommended for funding.

The Opportunity Alliance, formerly known as PROP, sought $56,000 for its foster grandparents and senior companions program, and for the Parkside Neighborhood Center.

Also left out was a $40,000 request from the Frannie Peabody Center for its HIV client services emergency aid program.

Rees also is recommending:

  • $18,000 to make the Maine Irish Heritage Center handicapped-accessible.
  • $117,987 toward the restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House.
  • $45,000 in economic development funds to the Star East Cafe and Bakery.
  • $75,000 to the Milestone Foundation’s H.O.M.E. team, with reaches out to alcoholics living on the streets.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

Scarborough troop provides a helping hand

This week 10 first- and second-grade students from Girl Scout Troop 1119 in Scarborough have cooked up a way to provide services to two Portland-based social service facilities, the Preble Street Resource Center Soup Kitchen and Florence House.

"The girls are working on two badges. One being cooking skills. The other being community service. This helps with both," said Amy Boucher, a troop leader.

On Feb. 13, the girls took a field trip to Kitchen and Cork in the Gateway Shoppes on Payne Road to create homemade vegetable soup for the soup kitchen and decorate Valentine’s Day cards and cookies for residents of the Florence House, a center for homeless women in Portland.

Matt Brown, a resource assistant at Preble Street Resource Center, said the donations will help the Preble Street Resource Center in its mission to provide services to people who are struggling with homelessness, hunger or poverty.

"The overall picture for us is, the need is overwhelming and that need is unfortunately continuously growing," said Brown, who is in charge of in-kind donations at Preble Street Resource Center. "We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without a whole community of supporters, like Amy and the Girl Scouts. We are very thankful for their kindness."

The 10 girls took turns peeling and slicing vegetables for the soup, which Boucher said included parsnips, carrots, kale, parsley, garlic, chicken broth, and "a whole lot of love," as well as decorating cards and cookies.

The reason for coming together to create the soup was not lost on Madeline Leonard, a first grade student at Pleasant Hill Elementary School.

"It’s to help people that don’t have food," she said.

When asked what people will say when they eat it, she added, "They’ll say, ‘Yum, that’s good."’

Boucher said originally she was thinking about having the girls organize a winter hat and mitten drive for Florence House as a way to earn their community service badge, but was told the Florence House had received a large donation of hats and mittens over the winter.

Instead, Boucher said she decided to have the Girl Scouts decorate cookies and Valentine’s cards for residents of the Florence House.

Boucher said she hopes this community service is the first of many from the Girl Scouts to Florence House.

"The hope is to work with the Florence House and keep them as a yearlong, ongoing community service project," Boucher said. "I think it is good for the girls to see that so many of the things that we might take for granted, many people don’t have them."

That message of giving to those less fortunate was not lost on members of the troop.

"I feel happy to give," said Grace Boucher, 7, a second grade student at Blue Point Elementary School.

Her fellow Girl Scout, Natalie Hoffese, who is in the first grade at Blue Point Elementary School, agreed.

"It makes me feel happy to help these people so they are not so sad," she said, while decorating a Valentine’s Day card

This was the second time the Girl Scouts worked on a community service project at Kitchen and Cork. In December, the Scouts made a trip to the kitchen store to decorate Christmas cookies for residents of the Maine Veteran’s Home on Route 1 in Scarborough.

"The girls had a blast making the cookies. It was so much fun." Boucher said. "You should have seen all the frosting they put on them. The veterans must have had a sugar high."

Jane St. Pierre, owner of Kitchen and Cork, said she was so impressed with the job the girls did with the cookie project

"I thought they did such a good job," she said. "They were all nicely decorated and individually wrapped," St. Pierre said.

Boucher said she would like to continue that relationship between Kitchen and Cork and Girl Scout Troop 1119.

"We will continue to incorporate Jane into what we do," Boucher said. "She’s got a good local business and loves to have the girls come in."

Inviting groups such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to use her kitchen is something St. Pierre has done since opening Kitchen and Cork in 2008.

"This is something we have done since we opened," St. Pierre said. "We’ve let Girl Scout or Boy Scout groups, whether they are working on a badge or a community service project, use our kitchen for free. We have a nice big kitchen. It’s so much easier than trying to have it in a leader’s home kitchen."

In fact the day after the Girl Scouts were at her store, St. Pierre hosted a group of Scarborough Cub Scouts in her commercial kitchen. Tracy Rayner, who co-leads the group with Tammy Thatcher, said members of Den 8 were at the kitchen to work on their food preparation badge. The group made homemade pizza and salad, and learned how to set the table before a meal and clean up after a meal.

Young Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, St. Pierre said, are the perfect age to introduce cooking skills to.

"It’s a great age. They get so excited in the kitchen," St. Pierre said. "The Food Network has exploded so that even young children 5 and 6 like to be in the kitchen with their parents cooking. Anytime you can do something to bring kids into the kitchen, it’s a good thing."

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

‘END HNGR’ Time & Temperature Building Message Supports Preble Street

The Law Offices of Joe Bornstein is proud to support ‘Preble Street and ‘The Power of Sharing.’ For one week, Portland’s Time & Temperature Building will display the message ‘END HNGR’ to bring attention to Maine’s food insecurity crisis and honor Preble Street’s efforts to help this statewide problem.   

Food insecurity in Maine, which started to surge in 2008 at the start of the economic downturn as a result of people losing their jobs, homes and financial resources, remains a very prevalent and troublesome issue today. 

According to studies, nearly 49 million Americans were food insecure in 2010. That equals 1 out of 6 people lacking access to proper nutrition.

Preble Street, founded in 1975 as a neighborhood center to help the homeless and low-income residents of Portland, is an organization working tirelessly to help Mainers in need. Today, Preble Street reaches over 500 people each day.

Preble Street’s many programs include:

  • Drop-in Centers – Clean clothes, showers and a place to rest provided daily
  • Soup Kitchens – Over 500,000 nutritious meals served annually to Mainers of all ages
  • Food Pantries – Emergency groceries provided to families and individuals on a weekly basis
  • Shelters and Supported Housing – Warm beds 365 days a year for teens as they work to build stable lives and for women who once had no place to live but the streets
  • Social Work Services – Community Casework and Veterans Housing Services to help families find and maintain safe and affordable housing.

Each week over 400 community volunteers lend a hand at Preble Street and nearly 100% of the food and clothing distributed is donated. And at Preble Street, everyone, is welcome.

Some of the people who Preble Street helps were born into poverty, abuse or other unfortunate circumstances, while some were born into stable families and home lives. Some are temporarily homeless because of a sudden crisis while others have been homeless for years. Regardless of their age, gender, religion or race, all are accepted at Preble Street.

The holiday season, help Preble Street ‘END HNGR’ in Portland and assist fellow Mainers in need. Join The Law Offices of Joe Bornstein and our staff in donating items on Preble Street’s Wish List or by lending a helping hand to those less fortunate.

As food needs rise, federal funds vanish

People began lining up just after 9 a.m. Thursday outside Preble Street’s food pantry, waiting for the doors to open four hours later.

But even as Preble Street, a multi-service agency serving homeless and low-income residents in the Portland area, sees demand rising for its food pantry and three soup kitchens, federal funding that helps buy those meals has been slashed.

"We are overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming for a meal," said Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director. "We can’t sustain these kinds of lifesaving programs when the federal government is not participating in helping us do that."

It’s a federal funding cut that U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud say has hit agencies like Preble Street across the state.

While part of the problem is a reduction in the amount of money going to a federal emergency food and shelter program, the two Maine Democrats are lobbying the Obama administration to change a funding formula that they say has produced disproportionately large cuts for Maine because it discriminates against heavily rural states.

Preble Street will serve 500,000 meals this year, with demand up 35 percent since March 2010, Swann said. In August, Preble Street and other agencies throughout Maine learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was drastically cutting the amount of emergency food and shelter program money it would hand out for this fiscal year.

For Preble Street, that meant the loss of its previous FEMA food and shelter program allotment of $31,500 — a 27 percent cut in the $118,000 in local and federal funding the agency had been receiving. That put a significant dent in the budget of Preble Street, which struggles to assemble the approximately $1 million it needs to buy those 500,000 meals.

Pingree and Michaud say Maine lost more than $467,000 in FEMA emergency food and shelter program funding, a 57 percent decline from last year. Other New England states’ funding declined by just 34 percent, the lawmakers say.

Four Maine counties — Cumberland, York, Waldo and Sagadahoc — were dropped from receiving money from the program, Pingree and Michaud said.

The lawmakers have written a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate protesting the level of cuts, noting that federal data shows that Maine has a higher level of people experiencing "hunger insecurity" than 44 other states and has more people experiencing hunger than all other New England states.

They want Fugate to consider shifting some of this year’s dollars to Maine, though they acknowledged that may be tough to do, given the cuts nationwide.

Pingree and Michaud are urging Fugate to overhaul the formula used to allocate the money for the next fiscal year.

"The formula used must more appropriately identify the true need in states like Maine," they wrote.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC.

Program Provides Hungry Maine Kids With Food in Summer

Some 83,000 Maine children quality for free of reduced school lunches. But what happens to them during the summer break, when schools are out and cafeterias are closed? Well, according to estimates, only 15 percent of qualifying children get summer meals. Today in Portland, anti-hunger groups announced the expansion of efforts in southern Maine to make sure children have access to the right nutrition 12 months of the year.

Here at the Riverton Park Community Center in Portland, a group of neighborhood kids, many of them fresh from morning soccer camp, tuck into their free lunch.

Among them is nine-year-old Jasem Al-Jubyoy. “I had, like, bread, and we had, like, chicken inside it, like, cheese and some salad, and we got a choice of milk–and I picked white.”

The center serves up to 120 children a day from this largely Somali immigrant community, five days a week during the summer months.

Community worker Hassan Elsadig says without this service, many of the children would risk going hungry over the summer. “I think it’s really important, especially in terms of building a sense of community–the kids know that their community will provide for them in terms of food.”

This center is one of 218 across the state providing lunches–and sometimes breakfast–to schoolchildren. They’re specifically designed to help kids who qualify for free or reduced school meals.

Despite the efforts of programs like this, Maine still ranks poorly when it comes to hunger issues. The USDA cites the Pine Tree state as the second-hungriest in the country, while according to non-profit Feeding America, Maine has the eighth-highest rate of childhood hunger.

Michael Brennan from USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, says more needs to be done. “On a daily basis in Cumberland County there are 12,000 students–12,000 students–that receive free and reduced lunch. In the summer, 1,800.”

Brennan says many of them simply go without because there’s no way of feeding them when the schools are out. To help close this gap, 15 new summer meal sites are being opened in Cumberland County. The announcement was made in a church in Portland, one of a number of private and non-profit sponsors working with the state to address the issue.

“You have to be well-fed to be well-read–or to put it another way, to be schooled you must be fueled,” said guest speaker Joel Berg, the USDA coordinator of Community Food Security in the Clinton administration who now runs the New York City Coalition against Hunger.

Berg is also an author and nationally-renowned nutrition expert. “School lunch is so effective and it has been for decades because you have a captive audience,” he says. “Unless kids are in summer school, you don’t have a captive audience. And that’s great kids have a fun summer, they get to play. they get to relax, but a huge downside of that is they do not have access to summer meals, so it does require a lot more work.”

Berg says while the upfront costs of setting up a meals program have to met by the sponsor, the federal goverrnment will reimburse those costs once the site is up and running.

Speakers at the event praised the efforts of Democratic State Sen. Justin Alfond, of Portland, who announced the unanimous passage of LD 860, an Act to Reduce Student Hunger.

Alfond hopes the example being set by Cumberland County will be taken up in other parts of the state. “When we passed this legislation, one-quarter of Maine counties had zero summer meal sites. There are schools in Maine with 70 percent of children qualifying for these nutritious lunch programs during the school year, yet there’s no lunch site during the summer time.”

The legislation calls for the establishment of federally-funded summer food service programs in areas where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals. Alfond expressed disappointment that Gov. Paul LePage chose not to sign LD 860. When contacted by MPBN, a spokesman in the governor’s office declined to comment on the issue.

For more information about the summer food service program, click here.