FROM LEFT, Aaron Park, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program Executive Director Karen Parker, and Paul Hollingsworth. Park and Hollingswoth, owners of Henry and Marty Restaurant and Catering in Brunswick, have held a fundraising dinner for 10 years for the agency.

FROM LEFT, Aaron Park, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program Executive Director Karen Parker, and Paul Hollingsworth. Park and Hollingswoth, owners of Henry and Marty Restaurant and Catering in Brunswick, have held a fundraising dinner for 10 years for the agency.

BRUNSWICK

The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program served

318,000 meals last year and provides food for 500 or more school children in the area each week — and the support of local businesses and volunteers make it all possible, according to MCHPP’s executive director.

HENRY HALEY is the longest serving employee of the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

HENRY HALEY is the longest serving employee of the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

“There’s so much good work going on in community as a whole,” MCHPP Executive Director Karen Parker said, adding that without the support of the community, they would not be able to serve people in the way they do.

“We have a good infrastructure because of community support, so we can take advantage of the resources available to us,” she said.

Aaron Park and Paul Hollings-worth of Henry and Marty Restaurant and Catering, for example, have held a fundraising dinner for MCHPP each year for the past 10 years, donating all proceeds to the program — nearly $70,000 to date. Park said when the pair bought the restaurant, part the of business plan was to give back in some way each year. They chose MCHPP because they saw it as a sensible way to support a great need in their community.

“We do it so they can do the good, hard work that they do,” said Park.

The goal for the 10th year was to raise $10,000, which they are just shy of meeting. Park said their staff and customers are loyal to the cause, and many donated money for the dinner although they were unable to attend.

The donated money is magnified to about $7 per $1 raised due to the low prices at Good Shepherd Food Bank, where food is also purchased, said Parker. Raising about $70,000, Park and Hollingsworth have essentially raised nearly a half million dollars of buying power through their decade of hosting the dinner.

“When I think about a 10- year commitment to an agency, and our mission, that’s just incredible,” Parker said.

Volunteers

In addition to local business support, Parker said the organization would have to shut its doors without the support of their 200 volunteers who donate their time each week, making and serving about 125 to 150 meals a day, and distributing groceries, among other tasks.

She said volunteers are integrated throughout the agency, in all areas. Apart from the tangible work they do, their compassion and interest in clients, conversation and company, make the kitchen and dining room a welcoming place.

Most of the food served and distributed by the agency comes from larger supermarkets like Hannaford, Shaw’s and Trader Joe’s, but food is also sourced from local farms, including Six Rivers Farm in Bowdoinham, Fairwinds Farm in Topsham and Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. Community members also donate vegetables from their home plots.

Food insecurity

Food insecurity rates nationwide have dipped down to just under 12 percent. However, Maine has not seen that decease, with the state’s hungry population holding at 15 percent — that’s one in four children and one in six seniors in the state struggling with food insecurity.

Parker said awareness of food insecurity is improving, but not prevalent.

“People see Brunswick, and the downtown area, Bowdoin College, and don’t understand that many of our neighbors are struggling,” she said.

Parker said there is no typical profile of people who access their services.

“We have a lot of working families, a lot of elderly senior citizens on fixed incomes, people who have gone through a catastrophic health situation, maybe a divorce. The stories are as varied as people’s lives are. It’s everybody — so many people could be one paycheck away from a situation that would require help,” she said.

MCHPP reach

Besides operating a soup kitchen and a food pantry at their Tenney Way location, MCHPP started a backpack program in eight area schools. The backpack program discretely sends nonperishable food home with students both during the week and for the weekend. At the middle and high school level, the agency stocks pantries for students to take home meals.

During the summertime, when free and reduced lunches are not available for schoolchildren, MCHPP has a summer lunch program. The Summer Food Service Program has three mobile sites that provide a lunchtime meal five days a week for any child. The other two sites are at Curtis Memorial Library and Mt. Ararat Middle School, and the organization also works with camps in the area to provide meals for campers who are eligible.

The soup kitchen, in addition to proving nourishment, builds a sense of community. For some, their time at the kitchen is the only social interaction they have during the week. Parker said what volunteers and staff see when they open their doors each day, are people who generally sit together at the same table and socialize.

“It’s a place where they feel comfortable, and that is one of the most important things, we want to ensure everybody feels welcome, and that it’s their dining room,” Parker said.

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