The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is, in a word, overwhelming. The scale of our collective loss–especially of lost lives–is so enormous it’s hard to comprehend. Uncertainty about the future affects our mood, our sleep, our plans, our worldview. Still, I’m blessed. I have a loving spouse, a job, a home. Lately I’ve been thinking about those in our communities who aren’t as fortunate, especially folks who don’t have enough food in this chaotic, frightening time.
Food insecurity was a big problem in Maine before anyone ever heard of Covid-19. Children and elderly people are especially vulnerable, but people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds can find themselves in need of nutritional support. Many dedicated people have spent a lot of time over the years building a statewide infrastructure committed both to providing food and overcoming the structural causes of hunger our communities. The organizations that are its backbone are being tested now.
What can we as individuals do? Here are a few ideas about where you might focus your support, be it financial or otherwise, if you share my concern about this fundamental issue.
- The Good Shepherd Food Bank distributes 25 million meals each year. Seventy percent of the food Good Shepherd gives away is donated by retailers, including restaurants, which are, of course, closed due to the pandemic. Its usual supply chain having been disrupted, in the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic, Good Shepherd was forced to buy $2 million worth of food to keep up with the need. That is almost twice what the organization spends on shelf-stable food annually. Last month the Harold Alfond Foundation stepped up big time with a $1 million grant to Good Shepherd, but according to an April 23 article in the Portland Press Herald, the non-profit’s director estimates Good Shepherd will have expenses of more than $6 million during the first six months of the pandemic. That’s a stunning number. Major donors are important, but small contributions add up, too. Whether you can send $1, $10 or $100, you can be confident Good Shepherd will stretch that money further than you can imagine. The website is here: https://www.gsfb.org/
- In my community of Greater Portland, the Wayside Food Programs have adapted operations to continue feeding people in this time of social distancing. In place of the thirteen community meals it usually sponsors each week, Wayside now is doing takeaway meals. It also is continuing to operate its mobile food pantries and a healthy snack program for children who are at high risk for hunger. In addition to monetary donations, Wayside takes donations of food. Its current wish list includes things like tuna, macaroni and cheese, rice and canned fruit. It also has a volunteer corps, if you have some time and energy to pitch in and help. For more information: https://www.waysidemaine.org/
- Food banks and pantries are a critical aspect of the fight against hunger. Maine’s largest is run by the remarkable Portland resource center known as Preble Street. A link to its web page is here: https://www.preblestreet.org/what-we-do/food-programs/food-pantry/ Clearly the number of people who are now out of work has increased the demand for food. Donations of food and funds are welcomed. Here’s the link for that: https://www.preblestreet.org/you-can-help/donate/
- Of course, need exists in all sixteen counties, and Mainers have risen to the challenge. The state maintains a comprehensive list of local food banks and pantries. Here’s the link to that list, which is easy to search by town: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/ard/tefap/bytown.shtml You can call for information about what they may need in the way of food donations, and also to volunteer. In my experience, many local food banks are run by volunteers who tend to be older and therefore more at risk if they contract Covid-19. If you consider yourself to be at low risk, volunteering to box up and deliver food is another great way to make a contribution to the cause.
- Since 1996, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has collaborated with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on a program called Maine Hunters for the Hungry. Maine Wardens, biologists, Marine Patrol Officers, Maine State Troopers and caring, generous hunters supply lean, high protein meats to food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters throughout Maine. According to the website, the program accepts bear, deer and moose donations. Road kill donations are also accepted, provided the meat is not damaged. Hunters do not pay for the processing of donated meat. Meat processing costs are paid for by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry or the charity that receives the food. You also don’t have to donate all of what you bag. Hunters can choose to keep some of their game and still donate a few pounds to the program. For more information, go here: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/ard/tefap/hunters_for_hungry.shtml
- Kudos to the Meals on Wheels programs throughout the state, who deliver hot meals to homebound seniors, a need that has grown greater in this time of isolation because family members often cannot get out to assist with their loved ones. Volunteers power that program, so if you’re looking for an opportunity, call your local area agency on aging, which administers Meals on Wheels. Southern Maine’s Meals On Wheels program is administered by the Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging: https://www.smaaa.org/wellness/meals.html The Midcoast is served by Spectrum Generations: https://www.spectrumgenerations.org/nutrition-services/meals-wheels The agency in Western Maine (Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin County) is Seniors Plus: https://www.seniorsplus.org/nutrition-services Due to it’s vast geographical reach, Aroostook County has its own area agency on aging that runs a Meals on Wheels Program: https://aroostookaging.org/services/ Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington Counties are covered by the Eastern Maine Area Agency on Aging: https://www.eaaa.org/meals-on-wheels/
- Finally, major props go out to the hundreds (thousands?) of school food service professionals throughout the state who have worked tirelessly these past two months, putting together to-go food packages for students since the schools were closed by the pandemic. If worrying about where your next meal is coming from is stressful for adults, imagine how troubling that is for children. Schools in many towns will be keeping feed-the-kids efforts going during the summer. Please call your local school district if you’re inclined to help.
I realize there are many other worthy groups–both formal and ad hoc– working on this issue. If anyone wants to give them a shout out in the comments, please do, with links if you have them.
Every single organization working to keep people fed has more need than it has resources, but they are never short on gratitude for whatever help you can give.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. These days she’s hard at work on new projects.