'Put pride aside,' food insecurity forum suggests

Apr 07, 2019
Panelist Jeff Trafton, left, Waldo County sheriff, makes a point about produce raised by Reentry Center residents to help stock food pantries. Panelists spoke at a community forum in Belfast April 4.

Belfast — This year’s Community Forum April 4 engaged representatives of area nonprofits and government agencies, as well as concerned citizens in discussions of food insecurity.

The well-attended workshop at Belfast United Methodist Church was sponsored by Building Communities for Children, Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, and Waldo County General Hospital.

Keynote speaker Megan Taft of Good Shepherd Food Bank urged participants to look beyond the immediate task of providing food for those who need it, and seek out wider connections in addressing the problem.

“You can’t end hunger by just providing food,” she told the audience. “Food insecurity is inextricably linked to other areas of poverty.” Citing inelastic costs like heating and health care, the 2008 recession from which the state has never recovered, high rates of underemployment and seasonal employment, and SNAP benefit cuts, she said the choice for some has become one of food or rent.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, a panelist, said he sees a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat. The county’s 17-acre garden, worked by residents of the Midcoast Regional Reentry Center, is projected to produce 150,000 pounds of fresh produce this summer, providing for food pantries and civic organizations all over Waldo County.

“Prison destroys self-esteem in most everybody,” Trafton said. He encourages residents at the center to take pride in their work and step before TV cameras to get deserved recognition.

Panelist and school nurse Ellie Weaver said kids come in hungry, some without having had a warm, safe place to sleep.

“We’re sending out dozens of backpacks with food for the family,” she said. “Still, some of these kids are really hungry when they come to school, and keep coming back for snacks after the meal. They crave attention and security, too.”

Reaching people who are food insecure has many obstacles, the most difficult to address being the stigma of admitting to their poverty, according to those in the “Addressing Barriers to Local Food Access” breakout session.

One participant suggested writers and visual and performing artists might help address the “us” versus “them” divide by engaging in a campaign to raise awareness of individuals suffering with food insecurity. Another suggested sending out a message to those who could benefit from food pantry services to “Put pride aside” and accept food donations without shame.

A lack of transportation was also cited as a reason why families cannot always access available food. Organizer Denise Pendleton hinted that next year’s community forum might be on this topic.

For more information about this year’s Community Forum and follow-up action steps, or to sign up to receive information about next year, contact Wesley Neff at wesley.neff@maine.edu.


Participants fill a meeting room at Belfast United Methodist Church for a community food insecurity forum April 4.
Keynote speaker Megan Taft of Good Shepherd Food Bank urges forum participants to look beyond the immediate task of providing food and seek out wider connections in addressing food insecurity.
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