In Maine, we’re fortunate to have many local farms to provide us with fresh, nutritious produce. We also are lucky to have so many people in our communities who are ready and eager to help neighbors in need. During this time of harvest and Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to those who share their time and resources with those who need it the most.

This year in the Legislature, we passed two laws that helped facilitate the sharing of our local bounty. I was proud to sponsor a bill that helps schools buy and serve local produce. Too many children in our state struggle with hunger. Nearly one out of every five children in Maine is food insecure. For many of these young people, the only healthy meal they get all day is school lunch. Students can’t learn on an empty stomach. We owe it to our children to make sure the meals they’re being served at school are nutritious and filling. Maine’s farmers and growers produce an abundance of delicious food. By helping schools connect with local farms, we help ensure that students are eating fresh food, and we help them feel connected with where their food comes from. We also help local farmers by connecting them with guaranteed buyers. That’s a win for our kids and for local agriculture.

In addition to my bill, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, sponsored a bill that renews the Mainers Feeding Mainers program. This is an excellent program that connects local food pantries with local farmers. Food pantries get fresh, healthy food to share with Maine families in need, and farmers get a buyer for produce they might not otherwise be able to sell. The Good Shepherd Food Bank says that since the program launched, it has been able to partner with more than 70 Maine farms to provide more than 2 million pounds of fresh produce every year to families in need. And many Maine farmers rely on this program to know they have a guaranteed buyer for their produce. This is another example of how we can help Mainers in need and support our local economy at the same time.

Many seniors and disabled Mainers also face difficulty getting access to healthy food, especially during the winter. To help them, this year the Legislature increased funding for Meals on Wheels. That means more home-bound Mainers will have access to free, home-cooked meals, delivered right to their door. This program also provides critical social support for vulnerable people, as volunteers both share food and check-in on the well-being of their neighbors. To learn more about Meals on Wheels, you can contact Sagadahoc County Spectrum Generations at (207) 729-0475.

As we reflect on all the abundance we have in our own lives, it’s good to pause and think of the ways we can share that abundance with others. So many of our neighbors do this already. Some volunteer with Meals on Wheels or local food pantries. But people help in other ways, too. Merrymeeting Gleaners, a group of more than 100 volunteers, harvests surplus food from farms to share with food pantries and other local charities. Since it was founded in 2016, the group has donated more than 120,000 pounds of food. Many workers at Bath Iron Works are donating turkeys to the Bath Area Food Bank. For years, volunteers have come together to serve a free community meal at Midcoast Pizza and More. Thanks to the efforts of a wide variety of community members, businesses and volunteers, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program will distribute thousands of pounds of food to hundreds of families this Thanksgiving. And right here at the State House in Augusta, staff in the Law and Legislative Library are collecting donations for the Everyday Basic Essentials Pantry and Augusta Food Bank.

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