This past August I began my two year position as a Feeding America Child Hunger Corps Member. I eagerly entered into this job, equipped us with all the resources needed to research and prepare a Community Needs Assessment around child hunger in Maine.
As I started my research, I began to understand the reality we are facing; Maine has an immense problem with child food insecurity throughout the entire state.
As a native of Maine it was staggering to find out how many of the state’s youth are suffering from food insecurity and the numerous consequences that result from it. This research brought to light the connection between food insecurity and the physical and mental health of a child. These variables are not only a cost to the individual, but a cost to the state of Maine.
Maine schools with high numbers of food insecure children are facing increased special education diagnoses, low test scores, and a higher number of behavior issues with students. The research also defined the areas in Maine with the greatest need for child hunger programming. It is clear, with 39 schools across the state with 75% of their student population receiving free or reduced-price lunch, that there are many students who could benefit from expanded child hunger programs.
The state has two distinct populations struggling with food insecurity, rural and urban. Our rural population is also facing a severe obesity issue. Maine has a cumulative obesity rate for children of 28 percent, lower than the US average. However, for rural low-income Maine children, the rate is nearing 50 percent. The state has 22 USDA-defined food deserts, where residents lack access to affordable nutritious food, and many of these areas also have high child obesity rates. These children are put into situations where gas stations and fast food chains are the nearby options for food, rather than a grocery store.
In urban areas of Maine, the population is more diverse and condensed. The result is overcrowded schools, cultural barriers, and overused resources. In both urban and rural settings, the children in Maine are feeling every level of the effects of food insecurity and it is threatening the future of our education system, health and work force.
My recommendations developed through this research could have encompassed so much, but ultimately I broke them down to three main objectives: expand the School-based pantry model to Aroostook County where fewer resources are currently distributed through the emergency food network; grow child hunger programming to Lincoln County where food distribution is also low compared to the number of people facing hunger; and finally, expand child hunger programming through Indian reservations in the state of Maine.
The past few weeks have been spent wrapping up the Needs Assessment as well as participating in a Feeding America training in Chicago to prepare for the next phase of my service, implementation. The implementation phase will last a year and a half and is designed to address the concerns brought forth in the research phase. Please keep an eye out here on the GSFB blog for the final Child Hunger Community Needs Assessment for the State of Maine and more news about our expanded child hunger programs in the weeks and months to come!
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