COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Maine

Good Shepherd Food Bank and its network of 450+ agency partners—including food pantries and meal sites—have been classified as an essential service. As the largest hunger-relief organization in Maine, the Food Bank will remain operational throughout the duration of Governor Mills’ Stay Healthy at Home Mandate.

We encourage Mainers to check on their neighbors and vulnerable community members to ensure they have a plan for accessing food, medicine, and other supplies. You can also ask our agency partners in your community what their critical needs are right now. Visit the “Find Food” section of our website to find a local resource, and be sure to check our continually updated list of food pantry updates and closures.

An Update about Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Response to COVID-19 

Good Shepherd Food Bank (GSFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in Maine. We are channeling all of its efforts to be a resource for the state of Maine, including expanding hours of operations and reallocating internal resources for planning, preparation, and response. We are committed to working with national, state, and local partners to deliver critical services that ensure that Mainers have access to food.  

We are actively working to develop and implement a plan for emergency food distribution in partnership with Feeding America; Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC)Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and county-level emergency management agencies; Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF); Maine Department of Education (DOE); and Maine’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) 

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, Governor Janet Mills issued a series of substantial new mandates to protect public health and safety. These measures take effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 2, 2020, and the order will last at least until April 30, 2020.

One mandate, called the Stay Healthy at Home directive, requires people living in Maine to stay at home at all times unless for an essential job or an essential personal reason, such as obtaining food, medicine, health care, or other necessary purposes. Details can be found here.

An essential job definition can be found in Governor Mills’ March 24 Executive Order.

Good Shepherd Food Bank has reached out to Governor Mills’ office and received confirmation that the emergency food system is considered an essential service. However, this designation of essential does not obligate any pantry or meal program to stay open if it cannot comply with the distancing protocols outlined by the Governor in her Stay Healthy at Home mandate.

Summary of Key Challenges of COVID-19  

  • Approximately 200,000 Mainers rely on our network every year and 1 in 5 Maine kids are food insecure. On a normal day, we provide more than 68,000 meals. With the COVID-19 public health crisis, those numbers will climb and resources to fight hunger will be stretched. Mainers need our support now and will continue to need our help as we emerge from this crisis. 
  • Maine’s network of food pantries depends in large part on volunteers who are generally older Mainers who are most at-risk for COVID-19. Our food pantry partners will likely not be able to operate at full capacity and many temporarily suspend services. We may need to recruit new volunteers who are at less risk to help with emergency food access, and we are in the process of implementing new methods of food distribution. 
  • Mainers who rely on public transportation or carpooling to access food may face new and/or additional challenges with the restrictions imposed by the new Stay Healthy at Home directive.
  • The Food Bank has a staff of roughly 80 employees; not all employees are able to continue in their full capacity due to child care, health conditions, and other factors. 
  • Food banks in other states that would normally help in times of disaster are taxed with the crisis in their own state. 
  • Schools have been instructed to close until at least May 1, 2020, and many children who normally rely on school meals are struggling. Each school district in Maine is considering how it can distribute meals during school closures. Some districts are not able to coordinate meals.  
  • Mainers who are more at-risk for COVID-19 may be isolated and having trouble procuring food and other necessary supplies. 
  • Each community’s food access challenges will be unique based on available community assets; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  

We are planning and assessing: 

Like you, our Food Bank and our partners have never faced a challenge quite like this. Below are the key steps we are currently taking to assess the situation and make a plan of action: 

  • Continuing to operate. We’re still distributing healthy food via our partner hunger-relief agencies. Following CDC guidelines and Governor Mills’ new mandates, we have implemented workplace safety mechanisms to keep our dedicated staff members safe. 
  • Convening an internal COVID-19 Response Team that meets daily to assess the situation and make key decisions. 
  • Collaborating closely with state and county agencies, as well as other partners, to plan and implement our response. We are also connecting with Feeding America to learn from the responses of food banks in other states who are farther ahead in the COVID-19 timeline.
  • Serving as a resource to our network of food pantries, meal sites, and schools by sharing CDC guidelines, new state mandates, and educating about no-contact methods of distribution.
  • Surveying food pantries, meal sites, schools, and other hunger relief partners to understand the challenges they are facing and any gaps in service. Surveys will be used to assess community needs and help inform increased and/or emergency response.  
  • Updating on our website a list of any changes to partner food pantry and meal site distribution plans, including any temporary closures.   

 

We are taking action 

We are shifting our distribution model. Our Food Bank is ready to meet evolving needs head-on, shifting our food sourcing and distribution to keep as much nutritious food flowing as possible statewide while reducing the burden on community food pantries and meal sitesTo this end, we announced on March 24 that L.L.Bean and its employees are helping us to pack approximately 10,000 emergency food boxes per week at its fulfillment center.  

We are now working on a plan to distribute those boxes through community and regional drop sites. These drop sites will likely be a combination of existing food pantry partners and new locations. We are working closely with county-level emergency management agencies, school districts, and other state and local partners to determine where these sites could be established. Emergency food boxes will be distributed through no- or low-contact grab-and-go (or drive-up) methods for the safety of all. 

We are securing more food to fill the emergency food boxes. Food donations from retailers generally account for 70% of the food we distribute—we are expecting that number to fall to zero during this time when retailers are struggling to keep up with the demand caused by hoarding activities. On March 21 we placed orders of shelf-stable food totaling $600,000, as well as crops from Maine farmers—such as potatoes and apples. We are also working with the Department of Agriculture to capitalize on increased flexibility in federal food. 

We are identifying communities in need. We are tracking food pantries that are temporarily suspending their services or changing their distribution schedule to identify communities that have a gap in food access. In collaboration with the Maine Department of Education, we are identifying school districts that are unable to provide meals during school closures. We will work to ensure that these communities receive extra food to feed vulnerable families. 

How you can help:

We encourage Mainers to check on their neighbors and vulnerable community members to ensure they have a plan for accessing food, medicine, and other supplies. Should Mainers need help securing food, visit the “Find Food” section of our website to find a local resource.

We are also seeking increased and flexible funding to meet the needs of all Mainers who are struggling—children, seniors, families, and individuals who are most at-risk. Our response will serve all communities and will be coordinated with local partners and resources with the greatest level of efficiency possible.  

Funds donated to support our COVID-19 response will be used for immediate needs and will help the Food Bank and its hunger-relief partners provide essential support in the months to come as we all recover from the economic impacts of this crisis. 

Your donations are needed to help: 

  • Purchase more food to replace the anticipated decrease in donated food—at least $600k in expected expenses for this food, alone. 
  • Buy boxes and supplies as we transition to an emergency food box distribution method. 
  • Support our distribution center associates and truck drivers who are on the job each day. 
  • Provide support to our food pantries and other hunger-relief partners as Maine communities recover from hardship. 

Our neighbors need us now—please donate to our COVID-19 response today.

 

Partner Agencies:

Our agency and program partners are the backbones of Maine’s hunger-relief system. We all must be operational and ready to act, especially when our state may be facing extra challenges. Please scroll down for updates from our partner agencies.

What You Can Do Now

  • You and your staff/volunteers should be practicing preventative techniques (see these recommendations from the National Center for Disease Control).
  • You can stay up-to-date on news specific to COVID-19 in Maine through the Maine CDC website.
  • Take this available time to prepare your agency, volunteers, and community members in case of a health emergency.
    • 2-1-1 is able to answer general questions about COVID-19. (You can read the news announcement HERE.) Patrons can dial 2-1-1 from any phone any time of the day, and a call specialist will be able to answer their general questions. This is an especially helpful option for patrons who do not have internet access.

Planning Ahead
Having an emergency response plan is, and always has been, important – for bad weather, an unforeseen power outage, a disaster at your site (fire, flood), or any event that impacts your community or agency. While you have time now, consider how you would be able to continue to provide assistance to your community in an emergency.

  • Here are a few ideas in the case of a health emergency, and we’d appreciate hearing about any other strategies you can think of:
    Patrons may need to send a friend or neighbor to your pantry or program for help. If you do not have a “proxy pick-up” system, you may want to consider making this available to community members who are sick or are advised to avoid public places due to an underlying health condition that makes them vulnerable. You can print menus or provide information over the phone in order to allow some customization of food boxes.
  • For pantries with the ability, a safe parking lot, and volunteers to assemble pre-made boxes, you may want to consider a drive-through distribution system for the short-term where patrons can stay in their cars and food can be placed in their cars. This allows you to continue to serve community members but create some distance between volunteers and patrons and patrons from one another.
  • Food pantries may also want to consider temporarily extending your hours and creating appointments in order to reduce the number of people at the pantry at any one time.
  • Meal programs may want to consider allowing friends/neighbors to pick up for homebound patrons and/or providing bagged meals for taking away, rather than sit-down meals, to reduce the amount of time guests have contact with one another and with volunteers/staff.

Please be in touch with any questions or concerns, especially if you think you will need to change your distribution times or style. Your Community Resources Representative is available to provide resources.

 

Volunteers:

Our distribution centers are open, and we’re taking precautions above and beyond those recommended by the CDC to be sure that we’re providing a safe working environment. The Food Bank could use your help now more than ever as we prepare for an increase in demand. If you experience symptoms of the virus or have been in contact with an individual who experiences symptoms of this virus, we ask that you refrain from volunteering for a period of 14 days.

Please visit our volunteer page or contact Beth Tatro, volunteer manager, (207) 782-3554 ext. 1169 or btatro@gsfb.org.

Clients Needing Food Assistance:

If you need food assistance, visit Food Pantry Closing and Changes.

Helpful Links:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maine-specific Coronavirus Webpage
Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC)
Maine Schools Providing Meals to Students During Closures
Maine Council on Aging’s Volunteer Guidance on Safe Deliveries
New Mainers List of Community Resources

Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has developed interim guidelines to help answer owner and employee questions about essential agriculture, horticulture, and animal care operations

Maine Equal Justice is providing regular updates and resources to help people understand what government programs they may be eligible for and how to apply: https://maineequaljustice.org/people/covid-19-resources

In Maine? Call 211 for up-to-date information.

Contacts:

Director of Facilities and Safety: Sam Michaud, smichaud@gsfb.org or 207-576-2023

Fundraising Contact: Erin Fogg, efogg@gsfb.org or 207-240-3029

Partner Agencies: Kathy Helming, VP of Community Partnerships, khelming@gsfb.org or 207-782-3554 ext. 1119

Media: Jessica Donahue, marketing and communications manager, jdonahue@gsfb.org or 207-991-7630