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Rachel Emus is the Hancock County Food Programs manager at Healthy Acadia. Katie Freedman is Community Health and Food Programs director at Healthy Acadia. Andy Matthews is the president of the board of Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Ellsworth.

Food or heat? Food or rent? Food or gas to get to work? You can only afford one. Which would you choose?

For too many Mainers this is the stark reality of daily life since the extra federal Supplemental Nutrition Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a COVID-era relief measure, expired at the beginning of March. For Maine households, that means a loss in grocery money of $95 to $250 a month, and in some cases more.

Add to that what we all know: Inflation has been at record highs. We all see it every time we go to the grocery store. What was a budget pinch became a squeeze, and now threatens to crush many Mainers, as prices for basic food items — eggs, milk and vegetables — rise above their reach. For some, this means going to bed, to work or to school hungry, or trying to get by on one meal a day. We see it happening exponentially at Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Ellsworth, and we hear similar stories from other member pantries in the Hancock County Food Security Network and around the state.

Food insecurity is real, and it is getting worse.

Our mission is to feed our neighbors, to offer them the food they need, with dignity and respect. This year we are on track to distribute record amounts of food and household supplies from a variety of sources. We receive cash and in-kind donations from grocery stores, local merchants and individuals. Community support is vital and strong, volunteers contribute time and energy, neighbors help neighbors. But it’s not enough.

So, what can you do?

Donate what you can to your local food pantry or bank: food, toiletries or money.

Each April, the Hancock County Food Security Network, an alliance of nearly 30 food pantries and related organizations, puts on the Hancock County Food Drive, an annual food collection and fundraising project that supports food pantries, free meal programs and school backpack programs across Hancock County.

With the help of volunteers, organizations in the network come together to raise funds and collect food, providing critical assistance to Hancock County community members.

Volunteer your time and effort to stock shelves, deliver food to those who can’t travel, sweep up or run a register.

Put on a food or fund drive at work, school or church. Every single bit helps.

Write to elected officials to encourage them to support more programs for those experiencing food insecurity, and more funding for the organizations working to address this and related issues.

Most of all, don’t judge. This matters. Take a moment to imagine walking in the shoes of a working parent whose child is hungry, or who goes without so that other family members can eat, or who thumbs a ride to save gas money for food.

It could be you. It could be any of us.