Joe Morelli hands over takeout dinners to patrons April 1 at the American Legion Post 205 in Augusta. The Knights of Columbus Abnaki Council 334 and the Legion post will be serving free takeout dinners every Wednesday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — As the need for food increases during the coronavirus pandemic, city officials are looking to raise awareness of 11 local feeding programs available for people.

Meanwhile, data shows that more households in Augusta are food insecure than the state average, further increasing the need for community organizations’ efforts.

A news release sent Monday by Augusta police Chief Jared Mills listed 11 options for people who may have trouble securing food during the outbreak. He said it was sent out to increase awareness of these options in case anyone was in need.

“These spots are very busy each day,” Mills said. “We are not sure everyone knows about these programs, which means we may not know the true need in our community.”

On Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 519 coronavirus cases, and 12 deaths, in the state. The city’s food bank and the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen have expanded their services during the outbreak and schools are offering meals for students, but many city residents may still experience food insecurity.

One of the programs is based at Central Church, on Mission Avenue just off of South Belfast Avenue. Pastor Joel Blackwell said their feeding program fits in with their mission, which involves loving others. Right now, he said, “loving others looks like making sure that no one goes hungry.”

Blackwell said the program is a drop-off of nonperishable food, like pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, and other items. He said people may sign up on the church’s website, centralchurch.me, and fill out a request or they can call the church’s office at (207) 623-0911. Once that’s done, someone will drop a box of food on the home’s doorstep.

Blackwell said the Central Church program is open to everyone with “no questions asked.”

Joey Viola scoops sauce over ravioli April 1 at the American Legion Post 205 in Augusta. The weekly free takeout dinners, put on by the Knights of Columbus Abnaki Council 334 and the Legion post, are offered every Wednesday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Augusta’s need for these services could be greater than surrounding communities. According to 2017 data compiled by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, state House districts that include Augusta have a higher-than-average amount of households with food insecurity, which defined as not being able to “afford enough nutritious food on a regular basis.”

One of Augusta’s three districts, District 80, is on par with the state average of 13% while the other two, Districts 85 and 86, have 17% and 19% food insecurity, respectively.

Rates of poverty and child poverty are also higher in those state House districts than statewide averages, according to MECEP data. District 86 has the highest rates, with 37% of children living in poverty, compared to a 16% statewide average, and 21% of all people living in poverty, compared to 13% statewide. District 85 data shows 23% of children living in poverty, while 18% of all people live in poverty.

District 80 — encompassing part of Augusta, Hibberts Gore, Somerville, Vassalboro and Windsor — is the only district with lower poverty totals that the statewide average, with 11%, but has an 18% child poverty rate.

Mills said in the release that participating organizations are operating separately from the city, but have the city’s “full support with the vital services they are providing.”

When asked if the 11 organizations would be able to fill the need during the duration of the outbreak, Mills said it was “unknown how long these spots can sustain their service.”

“Our hope is that this will all be over sooner rather than later which will lessen the need,” he said.

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