Good Shepherd Food Bank announced Thursday that it has launched a $250 million campaign with a goal of ending hunger in Maine by 2025.

The Campaign to End Hunger in Maine is one of the largest campaigns held in the state outside of colleges and one of few campaigns of its size for food banks within the national Feeding America network, said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. The campaign’s goal is to raise $100 million in cash and pledges and $150 million in donated food by 2025.

The public launch of the campaign comes at a time when the number of Mainers experiencing food insecurity has reached levels not seen since the Great Recession.

Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England at 13.6 percent of households. An estimated 173,080 people in the state are struggling with hunger, including 47,460 children, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit with a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks. That means 1 in 8 Mainers and 1 in 5 Maine children are food-insecure.

Based on data from Feeding America, Good Shepherd estimates that 40 million meals are missing from the plates of Mainers this year. The food bank has grown its distribution from 10 million meals in 2010 to 27.2 million meals during the last fiscal year, leaving a gap of nearly 13 million meals.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, food pantries in Maine and across the country have fed a record number of people experiencing food insecurity. Those numbers are rising again as unemployment claims go up, coronavirus cases increase, and people struggle to pay for heat and other bills while facing economic challenges made worse by the pandemic.

Food insecurity is measured by how many families don’t have consistent access to an adequate supply of nutritious food. Nationally, the food insecurity rate is 11.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Feeding America estimates 50 million people have experienced food insecurity as a result of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a microscope on the devastating impacts of hunger, the resiliency of our 500 partners across the state, and on the willingness of Mainers to reach out and help their neighbors,” Miale said. “With a renewed public awareness about the prevalence of hunger, now is the time to build a movement and end hunger in our great state. The pandemic will someday fade away, but its impacts on hunger won’t unless we take action now.”

Good Shepherd, which partners with 500 food programs across the state to distribute food, has already raised $115 million toward its goal during a “quiet” phase of the campaign that began in July 2019. That includes a $25 million donation the food bank received this month from novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, head of e-commerce mega-giant Amazon.

More than 43,000 donors have made gifts of all sizes to the campaign. Hannaford Supermarkets is the lead donor and projects it will contribute $120 million in donated food and financial donations by 2025.

“In the 40 years since Hannaford Supermarkets helped found the Food Bank, we’ve never seen a need like there is today,” Mike Vail, president of Hannaford Supermarkets, said in a statement. “As an employer with stores throughout Maine, we have seen firsthand the negative impact hunger has on individuals and our state. From education and workforce development to health care and families’ ability to make ends meet, hunger affects every major challenge Maine faces. Let’s not let another generation pass us by. Let’s end hunger now.”

Miale said the food bank is on track to grow distribution to 32.5 million meals in 2021, but her biggest concern is how to support its network of partners through that growth. The campaign will fund direct grants to community food programs to help them increase capacity, while also developing new partnerships and innovative models for community food access, and advocating for public policy that improves food access.

A main focus will be on equity for communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by hunger, and inclusion of community members who have lived experience with hunger, Miale said.

“Hunger is part of a much larger systemic problem and is intertwined with the complex issue of poverty. And we are confident that when every neighbor has access to the nutritious and culturally relevant food they need, we will stabilize the lives of Mainers facing hunger, reduce the costly impacts of hunger in our state, and make Maine a stronger, more resilient place to work and live,” she said.

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