Cynthia Shelmerdine (left) and Edie Kilgour (right) stir pots of homemade pasta sauce for Monday night’s pasta dinner put on by the Brunswick Democratic Town Committee. The annual dinner raises money for the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, giving the nonprofit a boost during a time when donations wane after the holidays but need increases. Kathleen O’Brien / Times Record

BRUNSWICK — November and December traditionally are the busiest months for Maine’s food banks and soup kitchens, but once the holiday spirit wanes, so do the donations, forcing food banks to stretch their last few holiday donations for months.

To help, the Brunswick Democratic Committee puts on an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day pasta dinner that raises money for the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.

Last year the pasta supper raised about $5,000 and expects to match that this year, according to Michelle Small, treasurer of Brunswick Democratic Town Committee.

“There’s definitely a drop-off in donations in January and February,” said Karen Parker, executive director of Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. “Oftentimes, need increases in January and February and if our donations continue declining, there’s a resources crunch.”

In Maine, one in five children is food insecure and 13.6% of Maine households are food insecure, which puts Maine above the national average of 11.7%, according to a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Each week, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program serves an average of 7,500 meals and receives 23,600 pounds of food. The Brunswick-based nonprofit provides meals and food to eight towns across the Midcoast. The nonprofit also developed a backpack program and summer meal program that provides food for students in need.

Parker said need increases in the winter because climbing heat and oil bills “force families to make hard choices.”

Kimberly Gates, executive director of the Bath Area Food Bank, said she sees need increase by about 20 percent in January and February, but donations don’t begin to increase until mid-summer.

“Food insecurity is an issue that needs to be addressed,” said Trish Riley, chairwoman of the Brunswick Democratic Town Committee. “It makes sense to give a big contribution somewhere where it matters.”

Parker said the event helps purchase food for its programs just as donations dwindle and need is beginning to increase.

“The dinner signifies we live in a community that understands there is a need and goes above and beyond to help meet that need for food,” said Parker.

“(Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program) is a visible service in the community that provides support to all the towns in this area,” said Small. “It’s needed, we know how needed it is.”

Last year, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program saw an increase in visitors, serving more than 4,000 people in 1,500 visits to the food bank in March and April.

Food insecurity stretches beyond empty lunch boxes and going to bed hungry. Families who struggle to put food on the table are more susceptible to chronic diseases and health conditions including asthma, low birth weight, diabetes, mental health issues, hypertension and obesity, according to a 2019 Needs Assessment report from Sagadahoc County.

This can be especially damaging for the 16% of Maine seniors who are at risk of going hungry, according to the Good Shephard Food Bank.

Riley said the committee chooses to have the pasta supper on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because the dinner is “consistent with Dr. King’s message of inclusion and community.”

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