A shopper pushes a cart through the food aisles of the Save-A-Lot grocery store in Dover-Foxcroft one day in late November of 2017. Credit: Micky Bedell

Every day more people go hungry in Maine than in any other New England state.

Nationwide, Maine is ranked as the seventh most food insecure, a designation that means residents lack access to the quantity and quality of food necessary for an active and healthy lifestyle.

These numbers mean that 16 percent of the state’s population is food insecure, including one out of every five children, according to data released in September 2017 by The United States Department of Agriculture.

It doesn’t have to — nor should it — be this way, according to Kristen Miale, president of The Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, the state’s largest hunger relief organization.

Miale is going to talk about those USDA hunger statistics and what can be done to turn them around during her talk “Hunger in Maine: A Solvable Problem,” at the Camden Public Library next week.

“We want [people] to know there are real things they can do about it,” she said. “Especially with the upcoming elections [and] the fact that some of the current policies in place impact real people.”

Miale pointed to reduced benefits and more restrictive guidelines placed on the federally funded and state operated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that are making it more difficult for residents on limited incomes to access good food.

Cayla Miller, events coordinator at Camden Public Library, said she recognizes food insecurity is an issue in the midcoast area.

“There is food insecurity all over Maine,” she said. “There is certainly food insecurity in the poorer sections of midcoast Maine. Camden has so many resources and good people who want to know what they can do to help.”

Among the issues, Miller said, is that’s it’s not always obvious who is living with food insecurity.

“It might be your neighbor, or your barista, or anyone you pass walking down the street,” she said

Fixed cost-of-living expenses, such as housing, can lead to food insecurity, Miller said.

“It can happen anywhere,” she said. “It can happen to people who might have decent jobs and dress well and seem like they are doing OK, but in reality they struggle to afford groceries. “

That’s why when it comes to fighting hunger in Maine, there is a lot of work to be done, according to Miale.

Three years ago, GSFB released it’s 10-year plan to eliminate hunger in Maine by 2025, and Miale said they estimated it would take 36 million provided meals to to do that.

That number has since been updated.

“At that time we were providing 20 million meals in Maine,” she said. “Last year we provided 25 million meals and we feel the overall need is closer to 40 million.”

Despite that anticipated rise in need, Miale did say the plan is on track and even a bit ahead of projections.

“We are on target to meet our goal in 2025,” Miale said. “We are actually ahead of where we thought we’d be after three years.”

A big part of achieving that goal was the purchase in 2015 of the former Bangor Publishing Company printing plant in Hampden. Bangor Publishing Company owns The Bangor Daily News.

The purchase of the 40,000-square-foot facility allowed GSFB to relocate its much smaller Brewer Distribution Center into Hampden and began distributing food out of the building in 2016.

The organization also added cold storage space in the Hampden building to provide space for the more than 10 million pounds of perishable food like fresh produce, meat and dairy products it distributes annually.

“Before we made that purchase, we did not have the infrastructure we needed,” Miale said. “As we continued getting to know folks better in the communities that are served by [the Hampden] warehouse, we decided to go on the road.”

Miller hopes people attending the Camden talk — and a second talk on Sept. 27 in Blue Hill — come away with a realization on how big of an issue hunger is in Maine.

“I know there are a lot of people in this area with a lot of passion they want to channel into this issue,” Miller said. “And it sounds like they will be connected to the resources they need to help.”

The talk is open to the public and is set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the Camden Public Library. Representatives from the local food pantry will also be on hand to share ideas with community members.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.