Justin Chenette

Food. It’s something easily taken for granted. We hear about other parts of the world needing help and assistance, but often there are people who need help right in our own backyard.

Surprisingly, Maine is towards the top of the list nationwide for the most food insecure. We’re 7th to be exact. That’s a high ranking we shouldn’t be proud of. Food insecurity is based on the lack of access to both quantity and the quality of the food we need to live healthy lives.

As much as 16 percent of Vacationland is food insecure, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Maine does have certain programs aimed at helping address this issue like the summer meal program for kids, but clearly, the root issue of economic hardship is at play here.

When I was little, I have vivid memories of my mom struggling to raise me by herself. For a temporary amount of time, we had to live in subsidized housing and rely on food stamps to get by. Back then, food stamps were actual pieces of paper similar to cash. I kept one to always remind me of what I came from. It’s a daily reminder of how my mom worked hard to lift us up out of poverty and live a comfortable middle-class life. Her strength and perseverance were inspiring to me. My story though is not unlike many people. Mainers are fiercely independent. Sometimes asking for help is hard. There shouldn’t be any shame in needing a hand at your lowest point.

According to Preble Street, in 1977 there were only 3 food pantries open in southern Maine. Today that number has ballooned to over 80 pantries. Food pantries provide essential food to more than 25,000 people throughout southern Maine. We are fortunate to have several in our local area.

The Saco Food Pantry is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the last Tuesday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. I recently took a tour of their location on Ocean Park Road. They have a great group of volunteers working every day to provide people a lifeline. They are always in need of food donations, but I learned on the tour that monetary donations are even better. The food pantry purchases a lot of their items from the Good Shepard Food Bank at rates that are significantly reduced compared to what you and I see in a grocery store. This enables them to buy in bulk quantities. They have an immediate need if large capacity freezers to store food in to replace old ones on the verge of breaking down.

The Open Hands Open Heart program is located right next door and provides individuals and children clothing and toys year-round.

The Old Orchard Beach Community Food Pantry on Saco Ave is also a great resource. In fact, they go beyond food and provide ways for folks get clothing, shoes, books, and household items through their attached boutique. They are open Mondays 2 to 7 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to Noon.

With the holidays upon us, this is a natural time to focus on the food pantries and providing meals to our neighbors.

Every Thanksgiving for the past few years, I’ve volunteered serving hot meals to people at Most Holy Trinity Church. The Knights of Columbus puts out a great spread. This Thanksgiving marks the 20th anniversary of their dinner. Everyone is welcome. If you know someone who needs a hot meal, please send them to Most Holy on Main Street in Saco on Thanksgiving from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In the meantime, donating food items to our local food pantries is a great way to give back to your community while helping feed your fellow Mainer. Happy Thanksgiving.

Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate as the youngest Senator representing the communities of Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington, and part of Buxton. Outside the legislature, Justin is President of Saco Main Street.

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