July 18, 2019

Cuts force food pantries to struggle

Deep cuts in a federal assistance program have left many Maine food pantries struggling to keep food on their shelves.

The cuts in the Emergency Food Assistance Program took effect in October, and they are beginning to be felt more as Thanksgiving Day signals the approach of the holiday season.

The cuts coincide with a time of growing demand at food pantries and soup kitchens, including the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, which serves 235 people each day for breakfast.

“I’ll be holding my breath for the next four or five weeks. That’s the most important time to keep us going for the whole year,” said Mark Swann, executive director.

Smaller soup kitchens and pantries are also feeling the impact.

The Bath Food Bank and Bath Soup Kitchen used to take delivery of about four or five tons of food every six to eight weeks, but the last delivery was only about one ton.

That was two months ago, said Joyce Hoeschen, who manages the Bath Soup Kitchen, which serves meals to about 70 people three times a week.

“We’ve had to scramble around” to get additional food donations from churches, charitable organizations and private donors to make up the difference in federal cuts, she said.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program was slashed 72 percent, from $353,000 to $97,000 in Maine, at a time of growing demand at food pantries and soup kitchens across the state.

The state’s entire allocation has already been used up to buy eight truckloads of food that must last through March, compared to 27 truckloads during the previous 1994 fiscal year.

“I think it’s a hammer blow to a lot of those programs,” said Rod McCormick, director of food assistance for the Maine Department of Agriculture in Augusta.

The state agriculture department has sought donations from farmers, and the operators of food banks are relying more than ever on donations from the private sector, officials say.

“It’s starting to get critical,” McCormick said.

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