Early in the morning, the Preble Street van makes its rounds to collect surplus food and bring it back to Maine’s largest Food Pantry, to share with as many as 140 families each week.
Every Thursday, soon after the breakfast soup kitchen slows down, the line begins to form. Elders who can’t get to the soup kitchen for meals, families who can’t make ends meet, hard-working people who are going hungry: Not because they’re spendthrifts, not because they’re making bad choices; but because they have no good choices.
Because the money they earn cannot meet basic expenses anymore. Because by the time they’ve tried to pay the rent and heating bills, pay for childcare and gas, paid medical bills and electricity, water, and phone bills, paid their taxes and insurance, paid for shoes for the kids and fixed a broken muffler, there’s nothing left for food.
No matter how they juggle, they always come up short and can’t find any way to make ends meet. Some have student loans to add to the pile. Many are hourly workers who don’t get paid when they can’t work. Most of them are one calamity—a broken furnace or an accident—away from being homeless.
A recent study at the Preble Street Food Pantry suggests that the food pantry is part of how people feed their families and make ends meet each month. With an average family size of 4 people and the average food stamp allotment of the participants of $82 per month, the pantry provides a clear lifeline between for families and individuals.
The study also discovered that increased food pantry usage by families over the past six years correlates to the USDA trends for food insecurity in Maine. Maine ranks second behind Washington, DC in its increase in the number of people who reported very low food security.
62 percent of study participants reported going hungry because they were not able to afford food due to financial pressures, loss of job, injury, illness or death of a family member: 23 percent go hungry on a weekly basis, and 23 percent go hungry on a monthly basis.
Preble Street Food Pantry provides a box filled with both fresh and non-perishable food to meet basic nutritional needs for individuals and families.
Emergency food boxes are also available at the Resource Center and Teen Center for people who are unable to make it to the Food Pantry.
100% of the food distributed comes from USDA government surplus commodities; is donated by local retail and wholesale distributors, farms, and bakeries—including Whole Foods, Hannaford, Barber Foods, Panera, and Mr. Bagel—or is collected in food drives by the faith community, schools, organizations, and businesses.
Fresh food and dietary staples, including meats and cheese, are hardest to supply, and in recent years our food pantry shelves have been nearly depleted because of decreased resources and increased needs caused by:
- a six-year decline in USDA surplus commodities
- more efficient purchasing and the growth of secondary retail markets, which dramatically reduced food industry surplus available to food programs
- escalating food prices, which limited buying power
- inadequate school breakfast, summer meal, and senior nutrition programs
- more people losing their jobs and homes and seeking emergency food
To respond to the impending crisis during the past fall and winter, Preble Street partnered with the United Way of Greater Portland on two collaborative efforts to ensure Mainer’s would not go hungry: The first—Food for ME—raised funds to replenish emergency food pantry shelves across Maine, adding as much as 2 million pounds of food to pantry inventories. The second—the Pantry Project—recruited businesses in Greater Portland to fill shelves with donated food to feed their hungry neighbors.