Nancy Grigg of Bridgton is encouraging people to “grow an extra row in your garden” this summer and give any abundance of food to their neighbors.

“You can’t assume people are well-fed nowadays,” she said.

Statistics show that she’s right. According to data provided by the Maine Hunger Initiative, 941 individuals in Bridgton received food supplement benefits in May 2016. That’s roughly 20 percent of the town’s population.

Neighboring towns of Casco and Naples have similar numbers, with roughly 13 percent of individuals in both towns receiving food supplements.

A 2016 report published by the Maine Department of Education showed 64 percent of children at Stevens Brook Elementary in Bridgton qualify for free and reduced lunch. The qualifications are based on income and family size, according to Kate Gustafson of the Maine Hunger Initiative.

This summer, a number of Bridgton residents have organized initiatives to provide hunger relief to individuals and families in their town and surrounding communities. 

Grigg, president of the nonprofit Feeding For Jesus Ministries, is leading one such initiative: Rise Up and Walk for Hunger Relief, a fundraiser for local food pantries and other organizations that will be held June 25 in Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park. 

Feeding For Jesus is a “group of Christians reaching out to everyone” to fight hunger, according to Grigg. The group has two other major initiatives: providing weekend food bags to students from School Administrative District 61 and “Gardens of Hope,” which grows produce for local food pantries.

The walk is new to Pondicherry Park, according Grigg, and the first “rise-up event.” Grigg said the group is “looking to make it an ongoing thing” with regular events to raise money for hunger relief. Walk participants seek sponsorships or sponsor themselves.

Pondicherry Park is a wooded area featuring three miles of walking trails. The park is adjacent to Bridgton’s Community Center, where refreshments will be served following the walk.

Bridgton’s Community Center on Depot Street is a hub for community activities and a central location for two of the town’s hunger-related initiatives.

Meanwhile, one of the Bridgton Community Center’s major initiatives, in cooperation with Opportunity Alliance, is the summer meals program, which provides lunches to kids ages 17 and younger, five days a week during the summer.

Carmen Lone, who is the community center director, said her facility is largely responsible for providing “volunteer power” to distribute the meals at three locations across town.

The Lake Region School District, serving Bridgton, Casco, Naples and Sebago, also runs a summer meals program. Just last week, the Good Shepherd Food Bank announced that the program was one of 17  to receive a grant for their summer meals.

The school district received $2,000 to cover the costs of meal preparation, as well as the purchase of coolers, printing costs and transportation of the meals, according to Facilities Director Andy Madura. The school will distribute meals at five sites in the Lakes Region.

Because a majority of students in the town qualify, the sites are open to any child in the community who shows up for a meal. Bridgton has the highest number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch among the district’s other towns – Casco, Naples and Sebago – according to the report.

Another initiative helping people gain access to healthy foods affordably is the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program at Bridgton’s farmers market. EBT works like a debit card, and gives people access to their food supplements (formerly known as food stamps).

The market, held weekly on the grounds outside the community center, had the capacity to accept EBT benefits up until a few years ago, according to farmers market organizer Brenna Mae Thomas-Googins. The market has brought the program back for this season.

Thomas-Googins said one of the most exciting things about the EBT program is the incentives. Through a grant called Harvest Bucks, EBT recipients can get back 50 percent of the money they spend at the market to be spent on market vegetables.

For example, if customers spent $10 in EBT on fruit and dairy at the market, they would receive an additional $5 to put toward any vegetables.

The incentive program has been well-received, said Thomas-Googins, of Patch Farm in Denmark.

“The most encouraging part of it,” Thomas-Googins said, “is touching people. That’s the most important thing.”

The walk through Pondicherry Park trails will start at the Bob Dunning bridge at 9 am. Registration will open at 8:15 a.m., and refreshments will be available from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Walkers will raise funds for local hunger relief initiatives by recruiting people to sponsor them or by sponsoring themselves. Proceeds will benefit the Weekend Food Bag Program for School Administrative District 61, and food pantries at the United Methodist Churches in Bridgton and Naples, the Casco Alliance Church, the Casco Village Church, CrossWalk Community Outreach in Naples and the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Harrison.

Prizes will be awarded to individuals and business or civic groups who raise the most funds before or on June 25.

For more information, visit www.feedingforJesus.org

A closer look

Bridgton-area summer meals locations include:

Highland Lake Park, Bridgton (run by Bridgton Community Center)

Sandy Creek, Bridgton (run by Bridgton Community Center)

Woods Pond, Bridgton (run by Bridgton Community Center)

Bridgton Community Center (rain site)

Stevens Brook School, Bridgton

Casco Community Center

Lake Region Middle School, Naples

Naples Beach

Songo Locks School, Naples

All meal sites are open Monday through Friday from noon-1 p.m., except for the Woods Road site, which opens at 12:30 p.m. For more information on sites run by Lakes Region Schools, contact Andy Madura at 693-6467. For information on sites run by the Bridgton Center, call the center at 647-3116.

A sign post along the Pondicherry Loop Trail, where the local fundraising initiative “Rise Up and Walk For Hunger” will take place next weekend. 

BrennaMae Googin-Thomas, an organizer of the Bridgton Farmer’s Market EBT Program, stands outside the Community Center  in this April photo. The EBT program allows food supplement recipients to use their benefits at the market. 


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