April 1, 2013

More Mainers strain to put food on table

The need for assistance from food pantries and meal programs is called 'unrelentingly high.'

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Bob Nichols helps run the Saco Food Pantry, which was used by 6,100 people in 2006 but more than 9,500 last year.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Volunteer George Coburn assists Eleanor Locey of Saco select groceries at the Saco Food Pantry last week.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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"People are just barely getting by," Parker said. "They have to make really hard choices."

'TOO PROUD TO ASK'

Two years ago, organizations that focus on poverty and hunger issues began to hear reports of more people showing up at food pantries than ever. Most were new people saying they never thought they'd be there. At the same time, people who had been accessing emergency food sources continued to do so, said Kristine Jenkins, coordinating director of Partners for a Hunger Free York County, the coalition formed to bring together individuals and organizations to address the growing problem.

Jenkins said it is essential for people working on the front lines of poverty and hunger issues to address immediate needs while also looking at long-term solutions. Most importantly, the solutions to ending hunger must come from the community, she said.

As the Partners for a Hunger Free York County began working with the various people and organizations trying to eradicate hunger, Jenkins said senior citizens emerged as an especially vulnerable population. Seniors are struggling to balance skyrocketing health costs, cuts in heating assistance and other financial pressure, she said.

Maine ranks 17th in the country and first in New England in terms of the percentage of seniors facing hunger. A third of people in the state on Social Security rely on their benefit for all of their income, according to the AARP.

Many of the seniors who go to food pantries are caring for grandchildren or adult disabled children, Jenkins said. She has heard many stories of seniors who have come to consider fresh fruits and vegetables a luxury.

"These people feel vulnerable and they're less likely to reach out for help," Jenkins said. "A lot of older Americans are eligible (for assistance like food stamps) but either don't know it or are too proud to ask."

Partners for a Hunger Free York County has focused on helping seniors by supporting programs that provide farm shares and credit at farmers markets. The Good Shepherd Food-Bank has a mobile unit that distributes food to seniors in the county free of charge. The hunger coalition also is working to identify seniors who are struggling and get them the help they need, something Jenkins said is hard for many people to ask for.

Locey, the Saco woman who uses a local food pantry, clearly remembers how difficult it was to ask for help with food for the first time two years ago. Over time it's become easier to walk through the door each month.

"That first day was horrible. It seems like a part of you goes," she said, but "I'm thankful I can come here."

Matt Byrne contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian200,000


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Today's poll: Food stamps

Do you think the federal government should raise the income level at which a household would be eligible for food stamps?

Yes

No

View Results