The number of people seeking food set records for the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program in 2020. Meanwhile, the increased demand is expected to continue for the next six months or more.

Midcoast Hunger Director Karen Parker said the agency saw its largest numbers ever in the last months of 2020.

“By far, the need is definitely greater,” Parker said.

The increased demand is expected to continue for at least another three to six months, depending on how long the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the community and economy.

In 2020, Midcoast Hunger’s soup kitchen served more than 64,000 meals, an increase of 22,935 meals or 58% over 2019. Midcoast Hunger’s food pantry saw 10,965 visitors in 2020 compared to 9,800 in 2019, a 12% increase. The busiest months were November, December and October, in that order.

The organization has increased the distribution of its to-go meals, which is one reason for the spike, according to the report.

“In our previous dining room format, most individuals ate only one or two meals, whereas today they are taking delicious, hot meals home for themselves and their families,” the report states.

“The rapid increase in numbers as we reached the colder months signifies to us that this will be a long, challenging winter for those we serve,” the report states. “We expect to continue to see busy pantry days in the coming months as the Maine winter compounds the economic hardships associated with the pandemic.”

The agency’s food bank processed more than 1.2 million pounds of rescued and donated food, an increase of 5% over 2019 according to the report.

The jump in donations didn’t keep up with the increased need, which Midcoast Hunger Prevention met by purchasing an additional $6,450 in food this year and particularly from farms and a total of $164,650, according to data provided by Hannah Chatalbash, Midcoast Hunger’s deputy director.

While that appears to be a small increase, Chatalbash stated in an email that the Good Shepherd Food Bank allowed Midcoast Hunger to purchase most food for free during the beginning of the pandemic.

“The fact that we were getting a decent amount of our product for significantly reduced prices, and still managed to spend more on food in 2020 than in 2019 is certainly telling,” Chatalbash said.

Midcoast Hunger’s mobile pantries, which travel to Harpswell and Lisbon, saw more than 2,500 visits which is a 127% increase over 2019 according to the report. The increase is partly attributed to the Harpswell mobile pantries increasing from monthly to weekly at the start of the pandemic. The mobile pantry in Lisbon is available monthly.

Parker said people who come looking for food get it regardless of whether they are from Brunswick or Sabattus. The organization also stopped asking people to wait 14 days between visits.

“We understand that people are in need,” Parker said.

Based on data from Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., Good Shepherd Food Bank estimates that there are around 13 million meals missing from the plates of Mainers this year, on top of the 27.2 million meals the Food Bank and its partners are currently providing. The organization aims to close this meal gap by 2025.

Parker said Mid Coast Hunger has been able to withstand the increased demand on its services because of the support of the local community and donors. There has been frequent national attention in the news about how many people have fallen into poverty and are in food lines for the first time.

“We are seeing that we are top of mind for people because of what is happening locally and nationally,” Parker said.

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