Maine's Hunger Crisis
What is food insecurity? It is the crisis of limited or insufficient food for all family members each day and may fluctuate during the month depending on when paychecks and services are received.
We know that hunger and learning don’t mix whether it is a K-12 student or a college student.
As cuts to food programs by politicians increase, food insecurity increases as well, and our students are the ones who are impacted. Maine now has the third highest rate of hunger in the country. Statewide more than 47% of students qualify for free or reduced school lunch.
More than 40,000 Mainers have been cut from the SNAP program causing even more hunger statewide, while dropping us 17 places to last in the nation for program administration. Hidden in Maine are the 35% of us who are food insecure and who do not qualify for public assistance, depending instead on food charities to fill cupboards.
To support hungry students, our members put together weekend food backpacks, collect for community food pantries, organize classroom snack donations, and reach into their pockets to purchase food items for the classroom. And we thank you for all you do.
As educators it is nothing new to help our students in need. But the food insecurity crisis is big and it is growing. Since hungry students are with educators so much of the day, it becomes part of our jobs, and ultimately part of the school day, to be sure children are fed and ready to learn.
The recent Task Force to End Student Hunger came up with a blueprint for solving hunger for our students, at least during school hours. Some outcomes of the task force are:
1. Improve and increase participation in child nutrition programs at the state level, 2. Increase Breakfast Programs and reach 100% of those eligible, 3. Reach 100% of those eligible for Lunch Programs, and 4. Increase Summer and After-school Nutrition Programs.
Senator Justin Alfond (D-Portland) has two bills for the current session—one that would give schools tools to make sure qualified students receive free meals. The second would streamline the application for qualified after-school facilities to participate in federal programs.
MEA as an organization takes this crisis seriously. We continue to participate in activities to help our communities deal with food insecurity. This year MEA partnered with WABI in Bangor to gather non-perishable food for local food banks. During the 2014-15 school year students at the MEA/WGME School Spirit Challenge schools provided 300,000 meals to Good Shepherd Food Bank, in addition to MEA’s check for $2,000. During December’s holiday period in both 2014 and 2015, the MEA Board of Directors contributed food and cash to Good Shepherd, and we donated to the Augusta Food Pantry as well. But we still don’t reach every hungry student.
We encourage you to talk to your administrators, in support of your Food Service colleagues, to build an infrastructure that will provide necessary nutrition to every student, every day. We know that for many kids the meals at school are the only food they eat, and weekends are 60 hours without food. The food insecurity crisis must be solved with a seamless set of options for students and families to access. Partnerships, information and education will increase access to healthy, nutritional meals for our kids.
Annie Casey Foundation, Portland Press Herald, Feeding America, Bangor Daily News, and Task Force to End School Hunger final report.