Good Shepherd Food Bank announced Friday that it distributed a record 21 million pounds of food across Maine in 2014.

The amount distributed equates to 17.5 million meals for hungry Mainers, a 35 percent increase over 2013. The statewide hunger relief organization provides donated and purchased food to 600 local agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens and senior centers.

A study by Good Shepherd and Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, released in October shows that one in seven Mainers – an estimated 178,000 people – go to food pantries and meal programs for food. That includes more than 50,000 children and 45,500 seniors.

More than 38,000 people are served each week by programs supported by Good Shepherd Food Bank, according to the Hunger in Maine 2014 survey. Research by Feeding America shows that Mainers are missing more than 36 million meals each year.

“While we are certainly proud of what our network was able to accomplish in 2014, it’s clear there is much more work to be done,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “More than 17 million meals for Mainers who face hunger is a step in the right direction, but Maine still has a significant meal gap. While we continue to get more nutritious food to families in need, our state needs to work together to find a long-term solution to hunger.”

More than half of the growth in Good Shepherd’s distribution came from the retail store pickup program, which allows partner agencies to pick up food donations directly from local stores. The food bank also saw an increase in donations from retailers to its warehouses in Auburn, Biddeford and Brewer.

The Hunger in Maine 2014 survey painted a picture of the face of hunger in Maine and underscores the need to support the emergency food system and find a solution to the hunger problem, according to hunger relief advocates. The study also showed the clear link between hunger and poor health.

According to the survey, 13 percent of households that used an emergency food program have at least one member in poor health. Households served by the food bank have a diabetes rate 30 percent higher than the average Mainer, and 41 percent of households have a member with high blood pressure. The study also showed that 67 percent of clients report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food in order to stretch their food budgets.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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