Thursday, August 21, 2008

Food pantries in Maine

from the Ellsworth American

This profiles two leaders of a network of food pantries in the state of Maine

Written by Carrie Jones,

Last week Jackie Thurber perched on a chair at a long, narrow table. Political officials and candidates, activists and bureaucrats surrounded her. She talked. She laughed. She listened, but mostly she pressed upon them the importance of her passion: feeding the hungry.

Thurber is a coordinator of Loaves and Fishes, which is the food pantry based in Ellsworth. It serves much of Hancock County. She and her compatriot, Nancy Hunt, of the Emmaus Center, are my heroes.


Because they’re making a difference.

Between 2004 and 2005 the rate of children in poverty rose 16.5 percent in Hancock County. It rose 13.9 percent throughout the state. Between 2002 and 2005 food stamp participation increased to 60.1 percent. More and more people are using assistance programs. Food pantry workers say more and more people need help.

You have to wonder why.

According to a presentation by the Food Pantry Network of Hancock County there are a lot of factors. It costs more to live in a home. There is seasonal unemployment. Food costs more. Gas costs more. Medicine costs more. There’s a lack of access to fresh food for people on the islands. Even people who qualify for food assistance (food stamps) aren’t getting all the food they need.

Jackie and Nancy know that.

They know all about that need. They see it every day. They see it and they keep working, keep hoping, keep trying to make it better. That’s why they and the other volunteers at the food pantries across Hancock County are heroes.

There are 12 food pantries in our county and they serve about 3,090 people, which is about 6 percent of the population.

The scariest number are these: 18 % of Hancock County children are on food stamps. 40 % are on Maine Care.

Those are the numbers, Jackie and Nancy, and dozens of volunteers know more than the numbers. They know the faces. They know the stories.

A 63-year-old lady from Northeast Harbor told them, “I live on $787 a month and out of that I have to pay rent, two insurances – one life, one car – phone and I do have basic cable, which is only $17,95, so that’s not too extravagant. But then I have a drugstore bill, which is exorbitant because I take about $2,000 worth of medicine a month. So, it’s a struggle.”

How much of a struggle? Sometimes her meal is a can of tuna without the mayonnaise.

“I can’t afford that either,” she told a team of interviewers from Healthy Acadia.

Those are the kind of things Jackie and Nancy see and hear all the time. They hear and see that and they are still cheerful. They don’t grouse about insurmountable odds. They just keep chugging along, feeding one elderly person, one child, one family at a time, working and working to make it a little bit better. They go to meetings. They create networks. They think of strategies to get more food and better, healthier food to the people who need it.

That’s why they are heroes. They’re heroes because they are making a difference. We all need to be heroes like that.

Link to full article. May expire in future.

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