On Christmas Eve, the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel’s editorial posed a challenging question: “Why aren’t we doing more to end hunger?” We have the same question: As we enter a new decade, and a new legislative session, we should consider why we haven’t ended hunger already.

More importantly, we should ask what will be done in this next decade to ensure the next generation of Maine children does not grow up hungry. The clock is ticking and the health, well-being, and prosperity of Maine’s greatest assets — our people — hang in the balance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses the term “food insecurity” to measure households that lack access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. The organization reports 13.6 percent of Maine households are food insecure — higher than the national average of 11.7 percent — representing 200,000 Mainers, including 50,000 children.

The newspapers are not alone when they ask why, if unemployment is so low, are people still hungry? As the state’s largest hunger-relief organization, we receive this question daily.

The most straightforward answer is that poverty is not only an issue of employment; it is also an issue of income. According to a new report by the Brookings Institute, although unemployment is at a historic low, 44 percent of U.S. workers’ median earnings are $10.22 per hour, about $18,000 per year. Of these workers, 64 percent are in their prime working years of 25 to 54; 57 percent are working full-time year-round and 51 percent are primary earners or contribute substantially to family living expenses.

A low unemployment rate means a lot of people are working, but it doesn’t mean they are earning enough money to cover their basic needs.

Some Mainers in need can access state and federal nutrition programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), or Food Supplement Program in Maine, is essential to reducing food insecurity. SNAP allows Mainers to purchase the food their families need, and each transaction generates revenue for businesses. Ten percent of Mainers currently participate in the program. However, 37 percent of Mainers who are food insecure do not qualify for SNAP or other nutrition programs. Restrictive policies such as asset tests, time limits, and work requirements have barred thousands of food-insecure Mainers from accessing these critically supportive services.

That’s where Good Shepherd Food Bank comes in.

We are working to end hunger in Maine before the close of our next decade. It’s a bold goal, but it’s achievable. With more than 450 partners in every county, we are improving access to nutritious food to people in need. Through hunger relief agencies, such as local food pantries, schools, meal sites, and health care centers throughout the state, we distributed more than 25 million meals in Maine. We work with more than 70 farm partners to distribute over two million pounds of fresh, Maine-grown food per year to our partners through our Mainers Feeding Mainers program. We work with schools and community centers to provide food where children and families are already gathering. And through our Cooking Matters Maine program, we offer cooking classes to ensure that low-cost healthy food preparation is not a barrier.

We will continue to grow as an organization to ensure every Mainer has access to enough nutritious food. And yet we know our work is not enough.

Maine needs systemic solutions with commitments at every level of community to end hunger in our state. It will require a determined partnership between our public and private sectors. We are encouraged by the current Taskforce to End Hunger by 2030, approved last year by the Legislature, and of which the Food Bank is a contributing member. We are hopeful this task force is the first step to developing the necessary public/private collaboration to end hunger.

Every Mainer has a role to play in the fight against hunger, from personal donations of time or funds to becoming an active community member. To address the economic, political, and personal barriers that perpetuate food insecurity, we must work together to start normalizing conversations around hunger in our state and confidently pass proven policies that will break the cycles of poverty to end hunger in the future.

No one in Maine should go hungry. There is plenty of food. Now we need the will. Let’s commit that the children born in Maine in 2020 will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. That no senior has to choose between medicine and food. That no one has to pick between a warm house and a warm meal, let’s commit to ending hunger in Maine.

 

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.