A record-breaking 400 people enjoyed an afternoon and evening of fancy sips and bites at Taste of the Nation at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. The annual fundraiser for Share Our Strength, with tickets priced at $125 for general admission and $200 for VIP, including a cocktail reception, raised more than $200,000 toward the campaign to eliminate child hunger in Maine.

“The money raised here at this event does stay locally,” said emcee Chris Kast, noting that Share Our Strength Maine is an all-volunteer organization.

“There’s an awful lot of truly hungry kids. One in four don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It’s hard to focus when you can’t think because you’re hungry,” said longtime event volunteer Andy Snyder. “All of this money goes directly to Share Our Strength and then goes to Maine-based summer lunch programs.”

“Really, it is about awareness,” said John Woods, the Share Our Strength chairman for Maine. “The federal government says they’ll pay for every hungry child. In our state, we reach 70 percent of the children in need through lunch and 40 percent through breakfast. Why isn’t it 100 percent?”

The answer: The federal support depends on having locations in the community where kids can go eat.

Share Our Strength is designed to link federal support with community and rec centers, YMCAs, churches and schools. It does so, Woods explained, by financially supporting community organizations that are good “problem solvers”: Cultivating Community, Opportunity Alliance, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street Teen Center.

“Just over 80,000 students in the state of Maine suffer from some sort of child hunger,” said Justin Alfond, Maine Senate president. “At the state level, we realized something was really wrong when one in four students in the state have some sort of food insecurity.”

The state Senate created a task force to come up with a plan to deal with the problem, Alfond said. But, in the meantime, thousands of young people are without meals they would typically get at school. That’s where Share Our Strength comes in, linking community organizations, food and volunteers.

“Solving poverty is complex, but feeding a child is not,” said Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit. “We have the resources to solve this problem.”

Currently, an estimated 25 percent of Maine children need food assistance, while only 17 percent actually get it.

“It’s depressing,” said Brian O’Hea, chef/owner at Academe at the Kennebunk Inn. “The food is there to be had; it’s just a matter of sourcing it out.” He and his wife Shanna are instructors with Cooking Matters, teaching high school students, young mothers and families how to cook at home in ways that are healthy, cost-effective and tasty.

“We see poverty where we are in the community, and it means a lot to support the kids,” said Jim Abraham, a restaurant owner who has raised a family in Fryeburg. “It’s a mixed community, a very supportive community, and people do what they can.”

“It’s shocking to me that so many kids go hungry,” said Harding Lee Smith, the chef behind Portland’s “Room” restaurants. “We serve gobs and gobs of food every day. In a town like Portland, where we have such resources, we have such a hedonistic lifestyle.”

“I love Taste of the Nation. It gets the word out, because a lot of people don’t know about the child hunger that happens in Maine,” said 17-year-old Sarah Speeches of South Portland, volunteering for her fourth year.

Brant Dadaleares, pastry chef at Fore Street, said, “When I was first approached to do it years ago, I thought it was such a brilliant idea. To see the support of 400 people is astounding to me. I think it’s incredible.”

“I was finally invited to do this a couple years ago, and I didn’t look back,” said Jeff Buerhaus of Walter’s.

“It’s just fantastic that all these wonderful places can come together in Maine and support ending hunger,” said Bonnie Redzinak of Gelato Fiasco.

“Where else can you find 30 restaurants under one roof – and be at Fort Williams,” said David Turgelsky of Cape Elizabeth. “Even the restaurants that are here turn it up. The chefs put extra nuances on their cuisine.”

Dozens of the state’s top chefs and mixologists participated, including James Beard Award winner Sam Hayward of Fore Street; Food & Wine Best New Chef winner Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five; David Turin of David’s; Shannon Bard of Zapoteca; Lee Skawinski of Cinque Terre; and Jonathan Cartwright of The White Barn Inn.

“All the top chefs and top restaurants get together and do this,” Smith said, “which makes it a lot of fun.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

amyparadysz@gmail.com