With Increased Food, Oil, and Gas Expenses, Food Pantries in Southern Maine Are Seeing an Increase in Demand!

The food pantry doesn’t open for another 45 minutes, but volunteers are already loading boxes of food into cars.

Every week, this tableau of thankful patient waiting plays out twice. And the number of people seeking meals at York County Shelter Programs is rising.

“Sometimes we have unbelievable lines,” said longtime volunteer Rachel Paquet, lining a conveyor belt with cartons of meat, fruit, bread, and canned goods.

As Maine residents spend more on groceries, gas, and heating, more people turn to local food pantries. It now feeds approximately 4,500 people monthly in Alfred, about double pre-pandemic levels.

Across southern Maine, pantry directors report witnessing the same pattern and hearing from clients who are struggling to keep up with rising grocery and gas prices.

In the early days of the epidemic, the Harrison Food Bank fed 500 households every week. The Stroudwater Food Pantry in Portland expects to provide over 100 tonnes of food this year, up from 68 tonnes in 2019.

In March, the Vineyard Church of Greater Portland’s food bank supplied 20 more families per week than in February.
“People are struggling,” said Sandy Swett, founder of the Harrison Food Bank. “I had two calls last week from families in need.”

Food, gas, and energy prices are rising, putting more Mainers in danger of hunger as they try to stretch their budgets. More than half of the state’s food pantries are run by Good Shepherd Food Bank.

“As they rise, someone may have to choose between commuting 30 miles to a fully stocked grocery store or buying at a convenience store. “Or having to choose between traveling to work, grocery shopping, or visiting their local food pantry,” she said.

Since August, nearly 8% of respondents to the Census Household Pulse Survey said they “sometimes” or “often” didn’t have enough to eat. By early February, 10% of respondents – including 13% of families with children – claimed they sometimes went hungry.

The March inflation report indicated significant rises in gasoline, housing, and food. In February, the fuel index jumped above 6%. Food prices rose 1.4% last month, the biggest in nearly two years. Energy prices rose 3.7%, the most since October.

Yvonne Brackett, of Shapleigh, is aware of the increases and their impact on her family. She strives to aid her children and grandchildren, but her fixed income is limited. She goes to York County Shelter Programs every week to get food boxes.

“I have financial problems. “The price increases are unreal,” Brackett added. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

IMPROVED BENEFITS HELP

During the epidemic, food banks in Maine and across the country fed a record number of hungry people. In the spring of 2020, Maine food pantries reported a 25% rise in clients,

with some organizations reporting large increases in new clients or returning clients after years of financial stability.

This winter, as the number of coronavirus cases, climbed, and people battled to pay their expenses, numbers soared. By early 2021, Maine food pantries were feeding record numbers of people, and administrators feared they might run out.

The federal and state governments stepped in to help those in need and give food banks a respite. Individuals got federal and state stimulus funds, and qualifying families received up to $300 per child every month.

The maximum monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stipend was increased.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has been approved by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to provide the maximum SNAP benefit, totaling $299 million since April 2020.

According to a department official, the state would have distributed $17 million monthly if it had not sought clearance to distribute the maximum compensation.

Food Pantries in Southern

Every month, SNAP serves 93,000 Maine families. Maine’s extended benefits are approved through this month, and DHHS will continue to ask for maximum federal support, according to department spokesman Jackie Farwell.

In 2020-21, the department cooperated with the Maine Department of Education to deliver $67.8 million in food benefits to 70,000 school-aged children.

Summer P-EBT provided an extra $31.7 million in food assistance to almost 91,000 kids. The state has applied to keep the program in 2022-23.

The Mills administration has taken various initiatives to help people affected by increased energy costs. 90,000 qualifying Central Maine Power and Versant customers received $90 one-time bill reimbursements last month.

Governor Janet Mills also proposes utilizing half of the state surplus to send an $850 inflation relief check to Mainers earning less than $75,000 or $150,000 as a family.

“Putin’s assault of Ukraine has pushed up oil and gas prices, hurting Maine residents. “This approach will assist Maine residents to cope with rising prices by putting money back into their pockets,” Mills stated on March 18.

Enhanced unemployment insurance, SNAP payments, and other programs helped feed people throughout the pandemic, say hunger prevention advocates. Local food pantries also changed to ensure people had access to nutritional food.

Many Maine pantries switched to contactless drive-up distribution and remained open during the pandemic. They also started letting individuals from any town come for food.

“If someone is hungry and we can feed them, we will,” said Doug Horner, director of the Stroudwater Food Pantry, which delivered 105 tonnes of food last year, up 54% from 2019.

68 tonnes in 2019, 90 tonnes in 2020, and 105 tonnes last year. Horner anticipates distributing 105 tonnes this year.

Horner reports an increase in new sign-ups for the pantry in recent months. He added some folks who had stopped utilizing the pantry have returned.

The Vineyard Church food bank now serves 60-65 families per week, up from 45 at the start of the year, according to Debora Alonzo. People tell her they need help due to rising gas and heating prices.

“It doesn’t surprise me.” The food pantry is full, but she worries about the community’s hunger.

A new family joins the Harrison Food Bank every week. Now feeding 500 households per week, up from 300 over the summer. Some people drive an hour from Oxford County towns without a food pantry.

Swett, the food bank’s founder, says they’re back to where they started COVID. “We’ve never had so many deliveries. Last week, 181. People can’t afford to shop here.”

Right now, Swett says, the issue isn’t giving out food, but getting it to the food bank. Every every day, two trucks travel 100 miles to Portland to pick up food donated by dozens of retailers. The food bank also helps tiny pantries.

More Updates:

Swett estimates her daily truck costs at $120. Plus, the food bank’s electric bill increased by 85% this winter.

“It kills us.”

Because of rising prices, more people are in need of food assistance, according to Stroudwater Food Pantry Director Horner.

We have shortages in southern Maine, and you can see it in the supermarkets, he said.

The Good Shepherd Food Bank can still deliver food to nearly 600 partner programs across the state despite rising pricing. Donahue said the food bank does not charge pantries for transportation charges.

Director of York County Shelter Programs Food Pantry Mike Ouellette says higher gas prices haven’t affected pantry operations.

With rising grocery store costs, Ouellette has seen an increase in donations of unsold food, particularly prepared foods, and baked goods. The pantry buys food from local retailers, making it easier to meet demand.

“They have a lot more stock. “It worked out,” he remarked.

84 percent of consumers have pets and need assistance with food, according to a poll conducted by the pantry and Pittie Posse Pet Rescue.

68 percent of those polled claimed they would skip meals to feed their pets, according to Sharon Secovich, director of shelter programs.
Last year, the pantry fed 945 cats and dogs to 324 families. So far this year, it has fed 87 families, including eight new sign-ups in March.

Joe Russell of Hollis waited in line at the food pantry last week. His apricot poodle mix, Cuddles, greeted passers-by.

Russell is on disability and visits the pantry every Tuesday and Friday for food and Cuddles. He’s noticed the lineups getting longer, but isn’t shocked considering the current prices.

With his limited salary, he finds increased gas prices the most difficult to deal with and appreciates the pantry’s assistance.

“This location is a blessing for so many,” Russell remarked. “It sustains you.”

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