Food insecurity is measured by how many families do not have consistent access to an adequate supply of nutritious food. Nationally, the food insecurity rate is 11.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. In Maine, 13.6 percent of households are food-insecure, the highest rate in New England. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, however it has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Last March, as many of us in Maine were looking forward to gearing up for a break in the weather and preparing to enjoy our eventual wonderful summer, the coronavirus pandemic hit us like the wave of a tsunami. Overnight, schools across Maine closed, businesses across the state closed, and many were left frightened and uncertain as to how to proceed and how these closures would impact our communities.

Home, in our districts, as we faced these uncertainties, it quickly became apparent that this global pandemic would have significant implications on not only our towns, cities and our state, but on our country and the world. In March, we immediately contacted our superintendent of schools, with our first concern being what would happen to the children receiving free and reduced lunch. These calls were directly followed by inquiring how would older adults in our communities be impacted by this pandemic.

As a social worker with a long history of advocating for our most vulnerable in Maine, ensuring that those in need have basic necessities including food, shelter and medications, and as an advocate protecting our seniors through property tax relief and elder abuse prevention, we both knew we had to use our skills to find solutions and take action. We knew we had to help ensure that our children, our older adults, and others in our community facing adversity and challenges presented by COVID-19 were well taken care of.  We contacted our town and city officials, our contacts at AARP and the OOB Community Friendly Connection and Age Friendly Saco.

We immediately convened weekly meetings with municipal leaders, including our town manager and city mayor, oursSuperintendent of Schools, our friends from the OOB Community Food Pantry and Saco Food Pantry, Oceanwood Camp and Conference Center, our friends from OOB Community Friendly Connection and Age Friendly Saco, and Saco Parks and Recreation Seniority Program. We had these meetings along with town and city councilors, our State Senator Justin Chenette and all of our legislative colleagues and municipal leaders to pull up our collective sleeves and figure out how can make sure that people in our communities in need of food didn’t go hungry.

Earlier this summer, we were thrilled to learn of an initiative established through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act, which provided boxes of food free at no cost through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a component of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The program is supporting farmers with up to $3 billion in purchases of fresh produce, dairy and meat and distributing these products to low-income Americans in need.

Partnering with the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, we in the Saco Bay region were able to distribute food to families at Biddeford Middle School in July. When we learned that the Diocese was interested in returning to our region in August, we once again pulled up our sleeves and contacted out community partners to secure a site to distribute food boxes to families in our communities. The OOB Recreation Department immediately proposed the OOB Ballpark as a distribution site. Additionally, they, along with the Saco Parks and Recreation Department, offered to deliver these food boxes to folks unable to get to the Ballpark for pick up.

These trunk to trunk food distributions have been a huge success, providing a significant impact to those most in need. This month, for example, on Sept. 17, the Hollis Sports Complex will be distributing food boxes as well.

With autumn now before us and with our children and families navigating the challenges of getting back to school, we look forward to our continued assurance that people in our communities who are impacted by the pandemic, have the assistance they need, particularly when it comes to having enough to eat.

We are currently working with the Maine Farmers Exchange, the Episcopal Diocese of Mane, and our friends at the Good Shepard Food Bank to secure an additional Fall distribution for the Saco Bay community and look forward once again to parenting with the OOB Recreation Department to have this Fall’s distribution at the OOB Ballpark.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of us in ways that we might never have imagined. The Saco Bay community has come together to meet the needs of our neighbors. We are excited to continue our collaboration with our communities to find solutions for those most in need being impacted by this pandemic.

Together, we are rising to the extraordinary challenges this pandemic brought to us. As difficult, challenging, and troubling as these times are, we are persevering.

No child, no family, no person should ever go hungry.

This month’s distribution will take place on Thursday, Sept. 17 from10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hollis Sports Complex, Plains Road Lot, Hollis Center.

Rep. Lori K. Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, is a Licensed Master Social Worker serving her first term in the Legislature on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, is an attorney serving her second term in the Legislature and first term as the House chair of the Judiciary Committee.

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