November is the beginning of the season of winter holidays, whose celebrations revolve around food. It’s also the abrupt end of seasonal employment for many. The first winter storms and freezing nights bring a harsh reminder of how much time, effort and money it takes to stay warm in Maine in the winter.
Mount Desert Island communities have always found ways to band together to help ease food insecurity and food inequity. But it takes constant vigilance.
Of the roughly 9,000 kids under age 18 in Hancock County, 15 percent were living in poverty in 2017, according to the most recent Maine KidsCount report. In 2018, 18.7 percent of kids here were receiving SNAP benefits and 45 percent were eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.
Backpack programs, which operate under the radar in order to avoid embarrassing students who need assistance, now serve all the Mount Desert Island Regional School System schools with healthy food and snacks during the weekends when school meals aren’t available. They also operate during the summer months, coordinating with summer camps and other groups.
Many working people and seniors have trouble making ends meet, too. “The majority of our clients are hardworking, lower and middle-income neighbors … (who) spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on housing and heat,” leaders of the Bar Harbor Food Pantry wrote in an op-ed last year. “Add in the cost of a car required for commuting to work, childcare and health care. If the camel’s back isn’t broken yet, paying child support or student loan debt might be the final straw.”
One woman in her 80s who participates in the Share the Harvest program organized by College of the Atlantic’s Beech Hill Farm said, “When I was up and able I used to have gardens of my own, but I can’t do anything like that anymore … I used to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, squash — love the squash, that’s my favorite.”
Gleaning programs, food pantries and community meals all can always use donations and volunteers. Until such time as everyone has enough, it’s incumbent on everyone to share some of what we have.