Our holiday season has been filled with food, from Thanksgiving to the endless supply of extra cookies and sweets. We've worried about excess calories and too much sugar. Then, while cleaning the kitchen (and feeling slightly bitter about it), I happened to hear a Speaking In Maine program that reminded me what a luxury it is to have too much food and opened my eyes to a somewhat invisible but growing-at-crisis-speed problem in our communities - hungry children, hungry families.
You can hear the show by scrolling down to Dec 18th and listening as a podcast or on your computer:
Panel Discussion: "Poverty and the Two Maines"
Broadcast Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
We’ll hear a panel discussion titled “Poverty and the Two Maines.” The discussion was presented by the Harward Center for Community Partnerships at Bates College in Lewiston. The panelists discuss the issue from their perspective and share thoughts about how the problem of poverty in the state can be addressed. Panelists include: Hannah Pingree, House Majority Leader of the Maine State Legislature; Sarah Standiford, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby; Naomi Schalit, Opinion Page Editor for the Kennebec Journal; and Eric Smith, Congregational Outreach Coordinator, Maine Council of Churches.
The Kennebec Journal has a 7 part series describing the growing crisis Maine families face. Statistics are grim:
With a 3.3 percent increase in the number households experiencing hunger, Maine had the highest percentage growth rate of hungry people in the country between 2000 and 2005. Five years ago, we had 430 food pantries in this state; now we have 600. According to the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, from 2002 to 2005 the number of Maine households receiving food stamps increased by almost 50 percent; nationally, food stamp use increased by only 26 percent from 2000 to 2004.
In the past four years, the proportion of students eligible for free and reduced school lunch increased each year on a statewide basis as well as in most counties. More than one-third of the state’s school children were eligible during the 2005-06 school year for the free and reduced school lunch program. Almost half of all students in Somerset, Washington and Piscataquis counties were eligible.