U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, center, visits Native Maine in Westbrook last week to celebrate the new contract. Courtesy photo

WESTBROOK — A $1.35 million contract, funded by federal a grant, will enable local food distributor Native Maine to provide 45,000 boxes of fresh produce to food pantries all over the region.

Native Maine will work directly with food pantries to distribute the 25-pound boxes of locally grown produce to those in need.

“In the state of Maine, believe it or not, at least 48% of children are food insecure, which is a huge problem,” said Melissa Motejunas, Native Maine’s strategic accounts manager. “It’s serious and needs to be addressed, not just nationwide, but here in our state.”

Food pantries that will benefit from the Native Maine packages include Good Shepherd, Wayside, Youth Full Maine, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention and My Place Teen Center.

“We are getting 110 boxes a week from Native Maine. We deliver those boxes and offer them curbside along with our daily dinners,” said Donna Dwyer, president of My Place Teen Center in Westbrook.

The boxes go a long way when added to the meals the teen center provides, Dwyer said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, My Place Teen Center has been distributing 1,200 meals weekly to everyone in need, expanding their focus from youth to the entire community.

“In the boxes are household staples, fruit, vegetables, and that’s important to have as part of your fridge and pantry,” Dwyer said. “Native Maine has always been our partner throughout the years and they’ve been excellent at providing (for) us for events and things.”

The food comes from over 30 local farms.

“We go local as much as possible,” Motejunas said.

Funds for the contract come from the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a component of USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that was established through the CARES Act.

In total, the program is supporting farmers with up to $3 billion nationwide in purchases of fresh produce, dairy and meat, and distributing these products to low-income Americans in need.

Native Maine is proud to be selected by the USDA to deliver food to non-profits, like Good Shepard, in Maine through the Farmers to Families Food Box program,” Vice President John Lunde said in a press release. “We greatly appreciate Maine’s Congressional Delegation and its Department of Agriculture for their support to make sure the USDA recognized the need in Maine for this program during these challenging times.”

No Maine distributors were awarded a contract in the first round of USDA funding, according to Sen. Susan’s Collin’s office, but the Maine delegation successfully urged USDA to expand the program into Maine.

“Growing up in Aroostook County, I saw how essential agriculture is to Maine’s economy and rural communities,” Collins said in a press release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a severe toll on farmers and has increased food insecurity among Mainers. The Farmers to Families Food Box program helps address this unprecedented crisis.”

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