Greater Franklin County summit addresses food insecurity

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FARMINGTON — Hunger is a growing problem in Greater Franklin County, where food pantries serve more than 1,200 people a month.

A group of more than 50 representatives of food pantries, educators and medical personnel met Thursday to address that problem by developing a list of barriers people face to get enough food and how to help.

“We are here because we care about food insecurity and hunger,” said Lisa Laflin, executive director of Tri-Valley Area United Way. “We are convening this meeting to hear from you.”

The agency and the Healthy Community Coalition, both based in Farmington, held the summit at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall.

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“Roughly 203,000 Mainers struggle with hunger, more than the total number of people living in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn and Biddeford combined,” Laflin read from a study titled “Hunger Pains: Widespread Food Insecurity Threatens Maine.”

“Since the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, much of the nation has experienced recovery and relief, but Maine is moving against the national trend, and high rates of poverty and hunger continue to harm our state,” Laflin read.

“One in six Mainers is food insecure, while the rate among Maine children is even higher: nearly one in four children in Maine experiences food insecurity,” according to a study done by Preble Street, a social work organization based in Portland, and Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, the largest hunger relief organization in the state, based in Auburn.

According to the study, what is commonly referred to as hunger is considered food insecurity by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There are several established stand-alone food pantries around the county. Pantries are in schools, a town office, at the University of Maine at Farmington and other places to try to get food to those in need. There are also summer food programs popping up around the area.

Challenges include people having limited incomes; lack of education and awareness; lack of budgeting skills; keeping financial information up-to-date to apply for assistance; lack of transportation to food pantries and programs; and communication to make people and organizations aware of the services available.

Other obstacles include the pride and shame culture; inadequate cooking skills; lack of home gardens; government funding reductions; networking among food cupboards and organizations; and larger and brighter accommodations for pantries.

Another issue was the need for farmers markets to accept electronic benefit cards, Women, Infants and Children program benefits and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistance for low-income people.

People discussed possible solutions to the challenges. Among them were to improve collaboration and share resources; create newsletters and put them online and mail them; make dinner for a neighbor or someone in need; share surplus; combine resources for food and clothing; get high school kids involved at pantries; and find ways to help the working poor. Other ideas were to reach out to home gardeners, give cooking demonstrations, create a cookbook for food distributed at pantries and form a food council.

Attendees created action plans for short-term and long-term goals that included setting up a Franklin County food council by the end of one year. A communityconnector.org website is in the works.

dperry@sunmediagroup.net

Joel Theriault, center, a representative of Pillars Community Outreach in Fairfield, writes down challenges that people face to address food insecurity. Brainstorming with him are Carthage Selectman Steve Brown, left, Jeffrey Kerr, local chairman of the Consumer Council System of Maine in Farmington, and Martina Eastman, right, a representative of the Tri-Town Ministerial Association Food Cupboard in Jay. A Food Summit was convened Thursday by the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area and the Healthy Community Coalition at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Farmington.

Catherine Default, founder of the University of Maine at Farmington Thrifty Beaver Food Pantry and Thrift Store, explained Thursday what her group developed for challenges that people face regarding not having enough food. She spoke at a Food Summit at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Farmington. Ellen Thorne, right, a program coordinator with the Healthy Community Coalition, writes a list of challenges.  

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