Waldo County General hospital in Belfast has opened a second self-serve food shelf to address rising hunger in the region.
The new Help Yourself Shelf is located at 125 Northport Ave. in the same building as Waldo County Dental Care and CarePartners, a MaineHealth initiative serving low-income and uninsured patients across five counties.
A food pantry shelf was already located at the primary and walk-in care building at 119 Northport Ave. This is the latest in efforts across the county to address hunger in the midcoast.
Nearly one in five people in Waldo County lack access to adequate and nutritional meals, according to a 2021 study by Waldo Community Action Partners. Data from Feeding America show Waldo County’s food insecurity is higher than the statewide average, and demand at food pantries across the county has been increasing in recent months.
“Addressing food insecurity is an important part of addressing the health needs of our community,” said Deidre Dority, who heads the hospital Community Health team’s food aid initiatives. “People who are food insecure are at risk for a variety of health problems and are more likely to develop a chronic illness.”
The hospital’s Community Health team regularly stocks the shelves with fresh produce as well as shelf-stable foods that can be freely taken by anyone.
“Offering resources where people have already traveled to get to an appointment creates a low-barrier option that allows patients to choose foods that work for their families,” said Dority.
The Waldo County hospital’s sister institution, Pen Bay Medical Center, also provides two food pantry shelves.
More than 5,000 pounds of shelf-stable foods were distributed across both campuses in their first year. Partnerships with food aid organizations in Waldo and Knox Counties allow the hospitals to keep the shelves stocked year round.