I have breakfast every Friday morning surrounded by fifteen children. Not my own children, but 8, 9 and 10 year olds at Mast Landing School in Freeport, Maine. These are a group of kids who sit with me or another adult volunteer every week. This particular program serves children from all walks of life. Though some choose to come because they might not have had time for breakfast at home, there are also those who are subsidized. These children are hungry because they didn’t have breakfast at home. In fact though, some of these children might not have even had dinner the night before.
This breakfast program at Mast landing School does not exist at every school in this state, or even at every school in Freeport. But it should because one in four children in the State of Maine are hungry.
Maine has ranked in the lowest ten percent of States for food insecurity in the past ten years. Maine’s ranking has improved in recent years, but only because conditions are getting worse in other states, not because fewer children here are hungry.
Right now, about 200,000 Mainers live with hunger. Hunger is not always a problem that we can see. Some of the people who are hungry in our State have jobs and homes and cars. They manage to hold on to essentials, but do not have the economic security to guarantee that they can put adequate food on the table. These are the parents who forego food themselves so that their children will have enough to eat.
In Freeport, a non-profit organization called Freeport Community Services (FCS) runs The Food Pantry, with food donations provided from a variety of sources including local businesses, supermarket chains and individual donations. Serving Freeport and Pownal, FCS’ Food Pantry currently serves 263 families each week. In fact, in just the past week, four new families were added as recipients. From 2008 to 2009, there was an 18% increase in families. From 2009 to 2010, an additional 16% increase and for 2011 to date, a 12-13% increase.
These are indicative of the kind of numbers we see rising throughout Maine. And with Federal and proposed State cuts to Heating Fuel Funds and other Health and Human Services Programs, the resources for the near future are becoming even more scarce.
The good news is that people are willing to step up to the challenge. For example, in Freeport, the number of volunteers at FCS continues to increase to help meet the demand for services. Incredibly, many of the new volunteers are the same people who are struggling and rely upon the services FCS provides. For them volunteering is a way to give something back.
As we enter the New Year of 2012 and Congress wages partisan battles over expiring tax cuts that take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of Americans who are already under economic duress, we, as a community, need to ensure that the safety net is in place for those families and individuals in crisis. As we leave the holidays behind us for another year, let us all remember that the season of giving is still upon us. In fact, let us remember that spirit of giving throughout the long year.