Ninety-five percent of Good Shepherd Food Bank’s partners across the state stayed open during the pandemic, providing a lifeline to Mainers experiencing hunger. Looking back, Kristen has remarked on the resiliency of the charitable food network in Maine as a unique strength during the pandemic and how, unknowingly, the Food Bank was preparing for this crisis over the years by investing in the capacity of its community partners and expanding with a second distribution center that ultimately turned into a critical resource to keep food flowing through the state.
While our pandemic response was impactful, the experience also led to crucial learnings for the organization. We heard from many of our school partners and community leaders that we were not meeting the needs of black, indigenous, and other communities of color, the same communities most impacted by food insecurity and the COVID-19 virus. The emergency food boxes did not contain food that was preferred, appropriate, or even recognizable to many neighbors. Through listening, Kristen quickly heard that this had long been an issue with our food distribution and the most impactful way we could help communities of color across the state was to redistribute funds to support organizations’ efforts to address the disproportionate impact of food insecurity and increase access to culturally relevant foods to communities of color, immigrant, and refugee communities in Maine.
This learning led to the launch of the Food Bank’s Community Redistribution Fund. Initially started as an emergency pandemic response, this program grew and evolved into a community-led grant program informed directly by black, indigenous, and other Mainers of color.
Another pandemic-era learning that Kristen would later share was the effectiveness of public-private partnerships in reducing rates of hunger. While Good Shepherd Food Bank and partner hunger-relief organizations across the state translated unprecedented philanthropic support into record-breaking food distribution, federal and state governments intervened with temporary increases in monthly SNAP benefit allocations that helped stabilize household budgets for 170,000 Mainers. Data collected in 2021, at the height of these public-private interventions, shows that Maine’s food insecurity rates fell below the national average, and poverty rates decreased by 13.5 percent. Affirming what we have known for a long time: the charitable food network alone cannot end hunger.
By most measures, the Food Bank rose to the challenge in amazing ways, but the COVID-19 pandemic also brought opportunities for listening, learning, and growing that has forever changed how the Food Bank views its work. In our final blog post honoring Kristen Miale’s leadership, we will explore how our pandemic-era learning and experience is helping pave our vision for the future.