Food insecurity in Maine continues to be a significant reality for many Mainers. According to the Feeding America, 206,000 Maine citizens or 15.5% of the population experienced some form of food insecurity in 2012; a 50% increase in the number of Mainers facing hunger since 2004. What is striking is that thirty-six percent of food insecure Mainers do not qualify for food stamps or other government programs and therefore must rely on charity to have enough to eat.
Historically, diet quality was not an important component of food security. However, the obesity and chronic health issues currently plaguing the country has resulted in a national rethinking of the value of a calorie. Perhaps energy-dense yet nutrient poor calories shouldn't be the default offerings at food pantries and other emergency food outlets. In response, Feeding America, the national umbrella organization for all food banks aims to increase its distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables from zero pounds twenty years ago to 1.5 billion pounds by 2016.
The Maine Harvest for Hunger program is making a significant contribution to this goal. Since its inception in 1999, over 1.8 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been donated via our program to food pantries, soup kitchens and directly to people without access to fresh produce. 2014 was our most successful year yet - 240,937 pounds of fresh produce were donated to 104 organizations from York to Piscataquis involving 304 volunteers and thousands of hours of volunteer time. According to Feeding America, one meal is equal to 1.2 pounds of food, so, in 2014 Maine Harvest for Hunger single-handedly provided enough food for 200,438 meals.
SOURCE:University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Master Gardeners, Harvest for Hunger Project