January 26, 2011

Our View: Maine hunger coalition is a needed voice in policy arena

As demand on charitable services increases, it's important that groups get better organized.

The last three years have been an unending challenge for the people who distribute food to those in need.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 195,000 Maine residents struggled with "food insecurity," which means having difficulty providing enough food for their families. With nearly 15 percent of households in that category, organizations that supply food to feed them are fighting to keep up.

In Cumberland County, the state's richest, more than 20 percent of food banks report that demand doubled in the last year alone. More than 80 percent said they have had to modify services, sometimes giving out less food or turning clients away, because of excess demand.

Until recently they did their best on their own to provide for the people who depend on their services. But now a new coalition called the Maine Hunger Initiative has formed to generate more funding and coordinate food donations. This is the right response to these times.

With demand so high, and government resources strapped on the state and local levels, charitable groups and nonprofits are playing a bigger role than ever. It's important that they are organized and efficient, so that their precious efforts are not wasted.

The Hunger Initiative will also be a strong advocate for people in need, something that has been missing in the policy arena. The group is backing two promising bills in the Legislature that would expand school lunches into the summer and provide tax credits to farmers who donate to emergency food programs.

It is time that Maine has an advocacy group focused on the issue of hunger, while marshaling community support for the groups that help people who don't have enough to eat.


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