Encore Leaderships Corps has received funding from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to address issues of food security across the state of Maine. Thanks to this funding, ENCorps members can now learn about hunger and poverty in Maine and explore ways they can help children and adults in their communities get the food and nutrition they need.
An average of 15.7 percent of all Mainers are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to nutritious food on a daily basis. There are many reasons an individual or family can become food insecure. Sometimes, the result of a very sudden and unexpected event is a difficult choice between eating and paying for other necessities like housing or medication. Individuals who experience sudden injury, unemployment, or a number of other significant life changes are susceptible. Food insecurity has become a nation-wide problem, and Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England.
WHAT ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE?
Usually when we think of food assistance we think of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. The qualification for SNAP services (the federal food assistance program that used to be known as “Food Stamps”) is the same for all states. A single person must earn $14,532 per year or less to qualify and a family of 4 must earn $29,965 or less. These definitions do not account for variations in cost of living such as access to resources, disability or medical expenses.
Community-based efforts to serve individuals and families at a local level are tremendously important, so important that demand has continued to increase. According to the Good Shepard Food Bank, keeping up with the growing demand is getting more and more difficult. Also, local pantries/cupboards generally depend on the generosity of community contributions to cover operating costs. Local services such as the Brewer Christian Food Cupboard are having a hard time making ends meet and are closing down at a time when their services are in growing demand.
WHAT CAN ENCORPS DO?
Five years have passed since the beginning of the recession, but food insecurity has actually increased. As ENCorps saw from our Food to Farm panelists at the 2013 Summit, some ENCorps members are already engaged in volunteer activities that help get nutritious foods to those in need.
Community gardens are a great way to begin to help local families afford fresh and nutritious vegetables and herbs. You might also invite those in need to help plant the garden and pass on some of those gardening skills! Also, many farmers markets in Maine accept SNAP and/or WIC funds. If your local farmer’s market does not, you may be able to help navigate the necessary paperwork.
For members living in cities, we recommend putting some of those Smart Growth skills to the test. Part of Smart Growth is using the space you have, restyling and reusing. Think about growing food along a wall, out of buckets, and along windowsills.
Many volunteer opportunities related to food insecurity are social in nature such as forming a local task-force or coalition to tackle the issue in your area. Another important need is community education. Sometimes individuals or families just don’t know where or how to get the most nutritious foods for their money. Consider all the people who don’t even know they can go to a food pantry or where their local food pantries are located.
Whether it’s producing food, helping local providers distribute food to those in need, or educating the public, there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities for ENCorps members interested in getting involved in food insecurity issues.
For more information on how you can get involved in ENCorps workshops and activities, contact Patti Foden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Mainers also pay the most per meal in New England ($2.67 per meal nation-wide)
- Over 1 in 5 children across the state are food insecure. In fact, in Somerset and Franklin counties that number increases to 1 in 4, and in Washington county, 1 in 3 children are food insecure. Cumberland and York counties are high too, with about a 19% child food insecurity rate.
- More common than not, individuals and families fall into temporary periods of food insecurity.
MAP THE MEAL GAP
The Map the Meal Gap program was developed to gauge just how serious the food insecurity issue has become across the country. The result is a map you can access online that gives you the food insecurity rates of the total populations and children of each state, broken down to the county level. Check out the map here.