PORTLAND – With an $8 million fundraising goal, the United Way of Greater Portland began this year’s campaign Thursday with a food drive to restock the shelves of food pantries in Cumberland County.

In seven hours, the agency collected 5,327 pounds of healthy children’s snacks, pasta and canned goods and took in $1,003 in donations.

“We are astounded by the generosity of individuals and businesses in Greater Portland,” said Ainsley Wallace, special projects team leader for the United Way.

The food drive was held in response to Cumberland County’s loss of $143,000 from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program this year.

The program, administered by the United Way of Greater Portland, distributes federal money to food pantries and food programs. The funding cut is part of a 57 percent reduction in federal funds statewide, from $814,937 in 2010 to $347,251 this year.

Cumberland County qualified for less federal money when adjustments were made to the distribution formula.

The loss of federal food money and cuts to state social services has put a strain on United Way’s nearly 40 partner agencies, said Suzanne McCormick, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Portland.

McCormick said this year’s fundraising goal, based on a detailed analysis of what is happening with its corporate partners, is the same as last year’s.

“Flat is the realistic projection,” she said.

One in five families in Maine does not have enough money to buy the food it needs, according to a report by the Food Research Action Center. The United Way noted that the number of people in Cumberland County receiving publicly funded food benefits rose 37 percent from 2008 to 2010, to 12 percent of the county’s 278,559 residents.

While the United Way raises funds through campaigns in more than 400 workplaces in Greater Portland, it also encourages individual donations.

More information about the 2011 campaign and how to get involved is available at the United Way of Greater Portland office at One Canal Plaza, Suite 300, in Portland, by phone at 874-1000 or online at www.liveunitedportland.org.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]