PRESQUE ISLE — In late February 2020, just weeks before Maine’s COVID-19 lockdown, Northern Maine Community College launched a partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank as part of a statewide initiative between the Food Bank, Maine’s community colleges, and Hannaford Supermarkets. In becoming part of Good Shepherd Food Bank’s official “Partner Agency Network,” NMCC created a direct link between students facing food insecurity and Maine’s largest hunger-relief organization.
The timing turned out to be remarkable. In addition to funds received in 2020, this month Good Shepherd Food Bank awarded NMCC an unrestricted $2,400 grant to support the College’s own on-campus food pantry. NMCC Student Navigator Ashley Hall, who also serves as the coordinator and liaison with Good Shepherd Food Bank, worked with her team to fill food packages for students in need using goods purchased with the grant.
“A student’s needs do not stop regardless of whether or not they are on campus or fully online,” said Hall. “Winter is typically when we see more students accessing the food pantry, and this year we have seen an increase. Many students have been impacted by COVID-19 and the financial hardships that all communities are facing.”
In addition to the grant mentioned above, Good Shepherd Food Bank awarded the college $750 to provide literature about healthy eating and bags for distributing goods to students. All resource bags include information connecting students with essential community resources such as ACAP, General Assistance and SNAP benefits.
Good Shepherd is also providing 40 “Farm to Family” food boxes at the end of the month. The boxes include meat, dairy, produce, and a gallon of milk. The boxes will be passed out with the resource bags to students who have pre-registered with Hall. Students will pick them up drive-thru style from Hall and her team later this month.
Recent studies conducted by Preble Street in Portland show that at least 40 percent of students enrolled in Maine’s college are food insecure. A national study conducted by the Hope Center in 2019 found that nearly half of all responding college students had faced food insecurity within the past 30 days. These statistics have certainly shifted in the past 12 months, with the pandemic nearly doubling the US unemployment rate from 3.5 to 6.7 percent.
“Maine is in the midst of a devastating hunger crisis, fueled by the crushing economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “We have never experienced this scale of growth at the Food Bank. Our partners distributed 27.2 million meals statewide; this is a 7 percent increase over the previous year. We’re proud to say 81 percent of these meals were nutritious foods to encourage healthy eating.”
“Food insecurity impacts our ability to focus and learn,” said Belen Dougherty, a non-traditional NMCC business student and veteran with two young children. As a work-study student in the counseling office, Dougherty has assisted preparing the food and resources. “How can we work on our assignments while worried about when the next meal will be?”
“I am grateful for the support the community has given to our students in need, and I know our students are grateful as well,” said Hall. “I cannot thank Good Shepherd Food Bank enough for the support they have given to NMCC, along with all the other generous community members during this time.”
To learn more about resources available to NMCC students, contact Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.