PORTLAND, Maine — The University of New England’s public health program has received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education, or SNAP-Ed, to provide nutrition education in Maine.

The SNAP-Ed funds, awarded by the Office of Family Independence in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, will be used to educate about healthy food choices, particularly among Maine’s low-income individuals. The grant is renewable for up to four years.

The majority of funds will go directly to the Healthy Maine Partnerships, a statewide network of comprehensive community health coalitions that form the backbone of Maine’s public health infrastructure. The partnerships will hire about 40 nutrition educators across the state to conduct classes in healthy cooking and grocery shopping on a low income and similar topics to encourage people, especially those receiving SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), to make healthy food choices within a limited budget, and to choose physically active lifestyles.

The Healthy Maine Partnerships have strong, long-standing partnerships with local community organizations and schools to carry out this work. UNE and the Healthy Maine Partnerships are working with a number of other organizations, such as Hannaford, Wholesome Wave and food pantries, to bring additional resources to the program, such as groceries, farmers market vouchers, and child care services, to enhance the classes.

“With the support of this significant award, UNE can advance its commitment to public health in Maine,” said UNE President Danielle Ripich. “UNE is thrilled to partner with local public health organizations throughout the state as well as Maine DHHS and other statewide partners to address the critical issues of poor nutrition and physical inactivity that are particularly prevalent among those living with low incomes.”

Dora Anne Mills, UNE’s vice president for clinical affairs and director of public health programs, is the principal investigator and project leader on this award.

“UNE’s public health programs are well positioned to coordinate and oversee this work. UNE has a long-standing relationship with the HMPs, as we lead the HMP program evaluation efforts,” she said. “UNE also has a number of faculty and staff with expertise in the areas of obesity, nutrition, physical activity, chronic disease and community-based public health work. And with over 100 matriculated students in our master of public health program — including about half from Maine — there are a number of students interested in obtaining local, practical public health experience by working with the HMPs on this initiative.”

For information, visit une.edu.