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  • Full Plates Full Potential awards summer grants to feed hungry Maine children

    Twenty-one programs and over $53,000 invested

    By Ramona du Houx

    During the school year too many children from low income families rely on school meals being their one meal of the day. Federal and state cuts to programs have made states like Maine food insecure. What do these kids do during the summer months for food?

    In 2014, Full Plates Full Potential got underway. It is Maine’s only statewide child hunger organization. FPFP does it’s work by partnering with other hunger relief organizations, granting funds to schools and nonprofits  providing technical support to grantees and working with chefs, businesses and others to end child hunger. 

    Full Plates Full Potential (FPFP) has just awarded twenty-one statewide summer food service program grants totaling over $53,000. Summer sites will run from the end of June until the end of August and serve free meals to anyone 18 years old and younger. Summer grants range from $500 to over $6,300 and fund critical investments to feed more kids such as: equipment for sites, transportation, enrichment activities, outreach, staffing and food costs.    

    This summer an unprecedented amount of applications and funding requests were received. Thirty one applications were reviewed, requesting over $100,000. There are over 400 summer food service program across the state that served just over 750,000 meals last year.  

    “Summer time is a frightening period for a hungry child,” said Anna Korsen, Program Director for Full Plates Full Potential “these summer sites will potentially serve 43,893 additional meals to children whose bodies and minds need nutritious meals. Additionally, many of our summer sites will pilot best practices that could help many more children in 2019.”

    FPFP collaborated for the third year in a row with Good Shepherd Food Bank to run the summer grant program. Additionally, FPFP partnered with the Horizon Foundation and many FPFP Feed Kids Vendors like Bissell Brothers, IDEXX Laboratories, Big Tree Hospitality, and the Brew Bus to raise critical additional funding.

    “Full Plates Full Potential is so grateful to our partners. Their generosity means we can reach so many more kids and families this summer” said Justin Alfond, a director at Full Plates Full Potential. “Summer sites are playing bigger and bigger roles in our communities. They serve great nutritious meals, and offer fun programing for children allowing kids to have fun.”

    "The grant funding will allow us to take the next step in our summer program, said Wendy Collins, School Nutrition Director at Kittery School Department.. “We purchased a hot oven with the grant -- the oven will allow our program to offer a larger variety of food, kids will be happier and it will increase our participation. I can’t thank Full Plates Full Potential enough for supporting communities address food insecurity."

    Website: www.fullplates.org;

  • Maine Senate endorses Sen. Alfond’s bill to streamline anti-hunger program

     The Maine Senate on April 7, 2016 gave initial approval to a bill that would expand access to food for hungry children and seniors by improving and simplifying a federal program’s needlessly complex application and moving the application process online.

    The Senate passed the bill 29-6 in a preliminary vote.

    The bill, LD 1472, would improve administration in Maine of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP,  which provides funding so that home daycares, adult day cares, child care centers, emergency shelters and at-risk afterschool programs can provide nutritious meals. It is one of several proven anti-hunger programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “We need to do everything we can to ensure Mainers have access to healthy, nutritious food,” said Sen. Alfond, D-Portland. “This bill will make it easier for qualified organizations to receive federal reimbursement for meals programs that feed hungry young people and our seniors. Fighting hunger is government work at its best, and I thank my colleagues for supporting this bill.”

    Navigating through the 40-page, multi-part application is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, especially for small providers such as daycares and after-school programs. More than $50 million in federal funding for anti-hunger programs through CACFP is sitting on the table because of low utilization by eligible providers in Maine.

    Roughly half of Maine’s K-12 students are “food insecure,” the federal term used to designate hunger. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity, and is one of the few states in the country where hunger is growing.

    The bill now goes to the House.

  • Access to food for thousands of hungry Mainers at stake in State Sen. Alfond’s bill

    During a public hearing February 25, 2016 the Health and Human Services Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, presented a bill to streamline needless bureaucracy so that more hungry children and seniors can be provided nutritious meals.

    Modeled after successful reforms in states such as California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Tennessee, LD 1472 would improve the administration of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP,  in Maine by improving and simplifying the program’s complex application and moving the program’s administration online.

    CACFP provides funding so that home daycares, adult day cares, child care centers, emergency shelters and at-risk afterschool programs can provide nutritious meals. It is one of several proven anti-hunger programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “This is the most underutilized of all the federal programs aimed at preventing hunger,” said Sen. Alfond. “There’s more than $50 million sitting on the table to feed hungry Mainers. By streamlining the application and making it available online, we can maximize participation and reduce bureaucracy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “

    Currently, the application is forty pages long, and within those forty pages, there are six unique programs. Navigating through the application is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, especially for small providers such as day cares and after-school programs.

    Eligible providers have said the cumbersome application is so complicated that it deters them from participating in CACFP. Alisa Roman, nutrition director at Lewiston Public Schools, which is eligible for CACFP, said she has put applying for the program “on hold,” and described the numerous, repetitive application requirements.

    “More at-risk students and families can be served nutritious foods by making the paperwork less daunting,” Roman said.

    Roughly half of Maine’s K-12 students are “food insecure,” the federal term used to designate hunger. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity, and is one of the few states in the country where hunger is growing.

    Representatives from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the Lewiston Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA of Waterville, Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, Maine Community Action Association, Maine HeadStart Directors Association, Maine Public Health Association and Maine Children’s Alliance all testified in favor of the bill. No one testified in opposition.

    The Health and Human Services Committee will hold a work session on LD 1472 on Tuesday, March 1.

  • Alfond: “If we are truly going to solve this childhood hunger epidemic then we have to stop the blame game”

    By Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland

    45,000 children in Maine are living in poverty. That’s more than the entire population of Bangor, Hermon, and Hampden. In fact,  according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report, the child poverty rate is higher today, in 2015, than it was before the recession.

    Just days ago, the National Commission on Hunger was here in Maine as part of their nationwide tour to learn more about hunger and poverty among our children. This 10-member Commission--appointed by the U.S. Congress--is charged with reducing food insecurity by developing innovative reforms in both public and private food assistance programs.

    When it comes to addressing childhood hunger, Maine has a story to tell.

    Astonishingly, in Maine, there are more than 86,000 children who are food insecure--that’s one in four children living in our state without access to enough food. Finding ways for our state to address our childhood hunger epidemic is imperative.

    It’s easy to overlook the signs of hunger.

    I often tell the story about when I was growing up in Dexter. When I was nine-years old, I had a friend in my class named Tom. Back then, everyone knew Tom as “that kid” who got called down to the principal’s office. He was “that kid” who stayed in during recess. He was also “that kid” who missed a lot of school. Later, what I realized as an adult, is that Tom was “that kid” whose family–although they worked hard–didn’t have enough money to make sure Tom got enough food. He was hungry. 
    I tell this story because it underscores how easy it can be to miss the signs. Childhood hunger is one of most hidden challenges facing our state. Yet, it’s all around us.

    Nearly 50 percent of all school-aged children in Maine are hungry. In fact, Maine ranks second in New England for food insecurity.

    Why does this matter? Well, hunger is a roadblock to learning--and success. And it makes sense. Try skipping breakfast, or going an entire work day and not eating enough and still being expected to do your best work. Do you think you could?

    One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a strong corollary between underperforming students and schools with high percentages of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

    Hunger makes a student’s journey through school--and life--incredibly challenging. Children without enough food not only underperform in school--and have behavioral challenges--they are also less likely to graduate from high school or go on to further their education. Lower educational attainment means lower annual incomes--increasing the likelihood they will stay in poverty. By not feeding hungry children now, we make it more likely they will end up in poverty later in life.

    In Maine, we are taking action--albeit slowly. Thanks to legislation, we have an expanding summer foods program--because we know that just because school’s out for the summer, hunger doesn’t go away. We also have a network of churches, nonprofits, and businesses all working together on solving food insecurity. Lastly, we are a state rich in agriculture. We can grow food to help solve this hunger crisis.

    So what’s the problem?

    I would say our biggest problem is the lack of leadership and political will in state government. Some in the legislature on both sides of the aisle are leading on food issues, but there are nowhere near enough lawmakers rallying for this cause. Sadly, it is far too easy for some politicians to talk a good game when it comes to feeding children, but still vote against those interests at every turn.

    And perhaps most insidiously, is this administration’s coordinated effort of shaming the poor--embarrassing and stigmatizing the very people who are trying to get back on their feet. There seems to be a belief from this administration that public shame is the missing motivator of moving people out of poverty to self-sufficiency. 

    If we are truly going to solve this epidemic of 86,000 hungry children in our state then we have to stop the blame game--and realize that this is not  just a school problem, and it’s not just a family problem. This is a community problem. It’s your problem, it’s my problem--it’s our problem. And, we have a responsibility to help those in need among us.

    It’s going take each of us working together and in partnership with the State of Maine and the federal government to ensure no child goes hungry in Maine. 

  • More than 178,000 people in Maine rely on food banks every month

    Article and photo by Ramona du Houx

    One in seven Americans relies on food pantries and meal service programs, according to a new study from the Feeding America Food Bank Network.  Nationwide, that amounts to more than 46 million people, which includes 12 million children, out of a country of 316 million. Hunger has become an epidemic in the U.S.A.

    For Maine that means more than 178,000 citizens use food banks to keep alive. The study showed Maine food banks receive an average of 11 visits per year from families. Having to go to a food bank every month, on average, is a significant hardship.

    "People are coming back, they're needing to come back to their local pantry month after month," said Clara Whitney who is with Maine's Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is part of Feeding America's network of food pantries.  "Our pantry network has become a huge part of how Maine families are accessing food on a monthly basis."

    About 15 percent of Mainers experience hunger, and that number's been increasing since Governor Paul LePage was elected four years ago along with significant food stamp cut backs from Congress. 

    LePage made part of his platform out of cutting back "social services" to those in need while he gave Maine's 1 percent a hefty tax break. For average homeowners LePage's policies have led to property tax increases as local towns have had to make up for funds they used to get from former state revenue sharing policies.

    Since LePage took office, Maine has experienced a job creation record among the worst in the U.S., ranking 46th out of 50 states in the latest report (July 2014). Additionally, Maine has the 6th highest rate in the country of people who work only part-time because they can't find full-time jobs.  

    Under his predecessor, Governor John Bladacci over 310 companies recieved Pine Tree Development Zone Status, a tax incentive program which grew thousands of jobs in the state. The jobless rate was under 7 percent, and the state had a surplus.

    Now, with LePage, the state has had the second worst personal income growth record in the U.S., ranking 49th from 2009 through 2013. Plus, median household income is down $1,600 and $4,600 below the U.S. median.

    Business Insider and CNBC recently ranked the state among the worst in the nation for business climate.