As COVID-19 inspires fear and uncertainty in Maine communities and beyond, the Cumberland County Food Security Council remains focused on ensuring food access for people with limited income and others vulnerable to food insecurity. Nutritious food is a basic need and essential to health and wellness. As routine food access is disrupted by the spread of the virus, the most economically vulnerable are the first to suffer and the last to recover in times like this.

We know what it will take to end hunger. It should not require a national-level emergency to force us to make basic investments in the economic and nutrition safety net. In Maine, nearly 186,000 people, representing about 14 percent of the population, experienced food insecurity in 2019. These members of our communities are part of the 37 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity.

On March 12, Congress proposed legislation that would increase the likelihood that low-income children, working people, seniors and families get access to nutritious meals during this crisis. Increasing and expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, creating new ways to get children meals when school is closed and providing paid leave for people who have to deal with sickness are good ideas in an emergency and any time.

At the same time, the Trump administration is still on track to implement the change in SNAP eligibility requirements that would take food benefits away from hundreds of thousands of people starting April 1. We also know from experience that while food banks and pantries are the vanguard of emergency response in communities, they lack the capacity to meet all the need when they are stressed like this. Don’t forget that the majority of volunteers are senior citizens, who are among the most vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus. We must make sure pantries and other food distribution points have the necessary resources. This would also be a good time to implement innovative ideas that have lacked investment, such as subsidized food delivery to seniors.

Calling 211 in Maine will connect you to food and other resources. You can also text your ZIP code to 1-800-548-6479 to locate a local emergency food provider and other support services. The Cumberland County Food Security Council has developed a Portland-specific food resource guide. There is also a Cumberland County guide to food pantries on our website.

It is important to rally now to keep our vulnerable neighbors healthy and secure. We also will need to remember these efforts as we develop solutions that will make food and economic insecurity a thing of the past. This commitment to healthy food for all must be in place whether we are experiencing a pandemic, a natural disaster or the normal rhythms of everyday life.

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