Heart-wrenching hunger facts:
- According to the USDA, Maine ranks 18th in the nation and #1 in New England in terms of child food insecurity.
- Food insecurity has increased by 50% over the past decade.
- Over 25% of children in our local communities are eligible for free or reduced lunches and possibly go home hungry on weekends. In fact, as much as 35% of students in one of our own schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
How is hunger affecting our own community?
Here is some food for thought:
In October of this past fall, a small group of community members came together with an idea to start a Backpack program in the local RSU 21 school district. We had heard about Backpack Programs in other schools and believed this would best meet the growing numbers of many hungry children in our own schools. In brief, Backpack Programs provide food in plain-looking backpacks to students on weekends, students who are at risk for hunger between school lunch on Fridays and school breakfast on Mondays. With no direct experience with such a program, yet with a passion to make a difference in the lives of these children, we decided to launch our own Backpack Program.
We reached out to partner with Community Outreach Services (COS), which for our small group meant we had the expertise and guidance of COS’s 24 years of experience addressing community hunger. COS responded eagerly by organizing a core group of volunteers willing to do the legwork to get a Backpack Program started in the community. The goal was set. We would launch the program to begin serving students in need in the Fall of 2015. A name was chosen the Food for Thought Backpack Program was underway.
What we’ve learned so far is just how great the need is for a Backpack Program. Because our school district percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch is low relative to other larger populated areas of the state, we don’t qualify for resources or assistance from larger organizations such as Good Shepherd Food Bank ’s Backpack Program. In our own RSU 21 community, however, 298 of own elementary students and another 228 of our middle and high school students qualify for free or reduced lunch (per Maine Department of Education website, 10/31/12 data), and are at risk for hunger on weekends when they do not have access to breakfast or lunch at school. Our Food for Thought Backpack Program group feels this is unacceptable that 526 of our community’s students may not be getting enough to eat on weekends. Five hundred twenty-six school children need not come hungry to school on Mondays.
The Food for Thought Backpack Program and COS are hoping not only to organize, fund, implement and sustain a successful Backpack Program to ultimately serve all our community’s students in need; but also to shine a spotlight on this under-recognized and often invisible issue of childhood hunger in our own community. We are pleased to report that the response to the Backpack Program in its short existence so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We held a successful Christmas Prelude Gift Wrapping Fundraiser, with unexpectedly bountiful donations of gift wrapping supplies from community members and businesses, local business owners donating space for us to wrap and warm up, and support for the program from Prelude visitors and locals alike. We’ve had generous donors step up to support children which costs about $250 per student for the duration of the school year.
We are so very excited and thankful! We want to continue to build upon our initial successes, enthusiasm and support to build a Backpack Program that our community can be proud of. We need volunteers and donations to make this possible. We would be grateful for your involvement in whatever capacity you can give. Please contact us here at COS by phone at ( 207) 604-0445 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how you would like to be part of the Food for Thought Backpack Program ! Thank you so much!
By Dr. Andrea Brown
-Andrea Savona Brown, M.D., grew up in Kennebunkport, graduating from Kennebunk High School in 1989. Andrea enjoys being actively involved in the community. She has held numerous volunteer positions within her communities, and practiced as a Family Medicine physician in Kennebunk for 10 years before retiring in 2012 to pursue an alternative career in the medical field. She volunteered as an EMT with KEMS and later served on the Board, and was on the Board of the medical group Primecare and served as President of the Primecare Board as well as on the Board of SMMC (currently SMHC).