Sean Marlin, finance and development assistant with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, and Karen Parker, the organization’s executive director, show off a pallet of donated Hannaford Helps Fight Hunger food boxes that will go to those in need. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — Although the holidays have come and gone, food insecurity hasn’t bowed out.

While donations of food and money tend to boom around Thanksgiving and Christmas, they drop off in January and February, a time of year when many area residents also struggle with the cost of heating their homes, according to Karen Parker, executive director of the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

A $5,000 check with donations by eight Tontine Mall tenants and the mall owner, plus about $500 in food boxes purchased from Hannaford, were due this week to be given to the program.

This year, tenants of the Tontine Mall in Brunswick purchased 50 food boxes for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and are donating a $5,000 check. From left are Anh Phan of Elizabeth Nails Spa, Indrani Dennen of Indrani’s, Christina Bouchard of Homes & Harbors Real Estate and mall owner Dan Catlin. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

“That’s huge,” Parker said Jan. 3. “That really does go a long way in making sure that we’re able to meet the growing need.”

The timing works well in battling food insecurity, too.

“This problem doesn’t go away just once the holidays are over,” mall owner Dan Catlin said. “In fact, there’s probably more of a problem in January.”

Parker agreed: “We’re top of mind during the holidays; lots of businesses do food drives. But then once the holidays are over, we have a real lull,” until the Postal food drive, in May.”

The organization’s food budget this year is about 18% of its total operating budget of $942,000. The rest of the organization’s budget funds general operating costs, facilities, refrigeration, utilities, vans, insurance and salary and benefits, Parker said. Not included in the budget is the nearly $2 million worth of food they distribute.

The program receives 61% of its support from community contributions, primarily from grocery stores and individuals, as well as 27% from foundations, 7% from United Way and 5% from the government, according to data posted on mchpp.org. Each week the organization receives about 23,600 pounds of food, serves 7,500 meals and requires 730 hours from 1,200 annual volunteers.

The program’s food budget will be increasing in the next few years, Parker said, “because we know that’s an area where we’re not going to see huge increases from the grocery stores, (and) that we’re going to have to find alternative ways to access that food.”

When the program is short a basic item, like peanut butter, it will spread the word on social media, Parker said. The organization often receives a strong response, but when more is needed it will buy the item directly.

The program looks to spend an additional $20,000-$30,000 on food next year.

“We’re serving more people, so we will have to start purchasing more food,” said Sean Marlin, the program’s finance and development assistant. Last year was the food pantry’s busiest, up 9.2% from 2018. Meanwhile, food donations rose 4.7%, so donations are not keeping pace with food distributions to clients, Parker said.

The reasoning behind the increased need is complicated and stems from many factors, she said. For example, there’s the lack of affordable housing, with rising rents being a challenge for people whose income isn’t keeping pace.

And the weeks ahead can be the most critical.

“When you think about people who have to make really hard choices in their family budget, and you think about January, February and March with heating costs,” Parker said, “what we hope to do and what we encourage people to do is to come here, to supplement their food budget so that they can possibly save money on the food and use it for heating costs.”

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