Gail Desjardins of Livermore buys produce from May Klug of Chirp Creek Farm at the Auburn Farmers Market in August 2019. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The city announced a microgrant program Friday aimed at addressing food insecurity.

The program, dubbed Feeding Auburn, will offer grants of up to $2,000 in an effort to support one-time community meals or launch more long-term programs for residents dealing with hunger.

A city statement announcing the program Friday said, “This extraordinary program offers small grants to local organizations to help ‘kick-start’ efforts to address the critically important issue of food insecurity in Auburn.”

According to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, 13.6% of Maine households are food insecure, which is higher than the national average of 11.7%.

City Councilor Katie Boss, who is also chairwoman of the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn, said in a statement on social media Friday that one out of five children in Maine is food insecure.

“Androscoggin County has a higher rate of food insecurity compared to other Maine counties, and we know that hunger hits hard in Auburn,” she said. “Hunger keeps kids from learning and growing, keeps families from thriving, and keeps communities from advancing. We need to do more to end this suffering.”

The city is inviting nonprofit and community organizations to submit applications for the grants, and according to the announcement, the city and nonprofit partners will offer “support and capacity-building training to ensure that the efforts seeded by these grants may be sustained into the future.”

Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday that he’d like to see small community groups like parent-teacher organizations, churches or Veterans of Foreign Wars halls get on board, adding, “They normally don’t have the chance to apply for or get state or federal grants.”

The City Council first discussed the plan in September, when Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell said the Feeding Auburn initiative came from $10,000 in funding that was added to this year’s budget at the last minute.

He said at the time, staff did not have a set plan for the funds, but he pitched the “microgrants” option, calling it an opportunity to build on what is already taking place in Auburn.

He said the proposal is for the city to provide up to $500 for a one-time event such as a community meal, or up to $2,000 for a small project.

At the time, councilors were supportive of the proposal, but urged the city to work more closely with regional organizations already engaged in such efforts.

On his Facebook page Friday, Levesque said other ideas could be small-scale food pantries, a backpack program, cooking classes, or a communal garden startup.

“Whatever ideas you have, this is a great way for Auburn to care for Auburn,” Crowell said. “We can solve our problems and continue to make Auburn the best small city in New England.”

The grant categories include families, seniors, youth and homeless, and have an application deadline of March 2.

In order to be eligible for a grant, an organization must be deemed to “serve a public good” within the city; projects must be connected to one of the listed categories; and applicants must attend a preapplication workshop Tuesday, Feb. 11.

“Let’s work together to support our children, help our neighbors, and strengthen our community,” Boss said.

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