Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program food pantry volunteers assemble produce bags. Ari van den Akker, MCHPP Communications Coordinator

As the food banks across the nation grapple with supply chain issues, increased demand from families and surging food prices, local food banks and pantries are bracing for holiday season demand.

Feeding America, which works with more than 200 food banks across the country, estimates that food banks are serving 55% more people now than before the pandemic and local food banks are feeling the pressure and asking for help to stock their shelves.

The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, which serves residents of six counties in the Midcoast, distributed 1.1 million meals between July 2020 and June 2021, compared to just over 1 million the year prior. The nonprofit operates a soup kitchen, mobile pantries, satellite pantries, food banks and school pantries in the region.

Alyssa Schoppee, development manager at the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, said November and December are the busiest months at the pantries and food bank. They have been receiving a lot of donations through food drives that community members are hosting around the holidays.

“We have a sharp increase in the amount of food we are processing and as well as the amount of food we are distributing through the food pantries,” said Schoppee. “Our numbers typically increase in November and December, so we are seeing that again this year.”

However, Schoppee said they are not seeing as large of a demand as they were last year at this time. Schoppee said while the supply chain issues were a lot more of a challenge for them in the pandemic, they have not been experiencing local supply chain shortages recently.

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“For our Thanksgiving bags, which we were distributing in November, we did purchase some items at retail price. Whereas, we might have gotten a discount on them in the year past, so that was the only increase in cost we have seen lately,” said Schoppee.

Schoppee added that the supply chain has been able to keep up with demand on most food items.

“Most of the supply chain issues that are going on right now are in other consumer items or for larger pieces of equipment, so we have not been experiencing that much recently,” said Schoppee. “The demand increases around the holidays so we might order more food from Good Shepard Food Bank as we are a partner agency.”

She said that they also get food from retail partners who tend to increase their products during the holidays, besides getting donations from Hannaford Supermarkets and Trader Joe’s

This year, the organization has distributed 69,000 meals and the food pantries saw 7,700 visits between January and October.

The Household Food Security in the United States in 2020 report by the U.S Department of Agriculture indicates that Maine households’ overall food insecurity rate dipped to 11.4% between 2018 and 2020. Despite this, Maine’s food insecurity rate was still higher than the national average, 10.5% in 2020.

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The Director of Bowdoinham Food Pantry, Jennifer Stonebraker, said that on average they see 20-25 families every Wednesday. The pantry is open from 4-6 p.m. for in-person shopping on Wednesday’s.

“As the weather cools down and winter approaches, the number of families we see weekly continues to climb, bringing our numbers to the level they were during the early days of the pandemic,” said Stonebraker. “We recently saw 36 families in one day, which is certainly hitting record numbers.”

Stonebraker believes that the increase in the cost of food is one factor driving their increased numbers.

While most other pantries offer pick-up models where they offer pre-packaged food boxes, Stonebraker said it has been a priority for them to remain open for in-person shopping.

“There is dignity in choice,” said Stonebraker. “Clients and volunteers are required to mask while at the pantry and practice social distancing, and we invite up to two families to ‘shop’ at a time.”

She said they are currently not experiencing a food crunch due to supply chain issues as they get bulk food items from the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. Besides, some food items are procured from local farms.

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Similarly, the Lisbon Christian Area Outreach Pantry located at the MTM Center in Lisbon too experienced an increase in its clients in the last one month.

Debbie Hill, the pantry director, said that their clients went up from 50 to 75 in the last month and a half.

They have served 1,996 people in October and 1,526 people until Nov. 25.

Hill said they are not facing any supply chain issues as grocery stores like Walmart, Hannaford and Food City donate enough food regularly. In addition, they stock up staple foods like tuna, chicken and rice, instead of expensive items like oil.

However, she said they could not give turkey to families during Thanksgiving, considering they did not have any.

“Usually, we get donations from the town of Durham and Lisbon, but this year not many people are around. They all left, so we gave out chicken instead of turkey,” said Hill.

 

 


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