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Thoughts After the First 100 Days

Kristen MialeOne of the many benefits of being the president of Good Shepherd Food Bank is that I get invited to a lot of interesting events.  Last week, I attended a talk by Former United States Senator George Mitchell hosted by the Maine Community Foundation. Senator Mitchell talked about the need to educate our children, a need that his foundation is dedicated to addressing.

His speech was inspiring, but also highlighted the challenge that low-income children face.  He discussed how you can predict, with alarming accuracy, a person’s future by the time they are age five.  Put simply, “kids that start behind, stay behind.”  He then went on to say that “while no one should be guaranteed success, everyone should have a chance.”  These words resonated with me because it reminded me of the fundamental role the Food Bank plays in ending poverty.

Many would argue that hunger is the result of poverty.  That is true, but the two are more connected than one simply causing the other.  In reality, hunger perpetuates poverty.  When a mom is hungry, she cannot think about long term solutions to secure a better future for her family.  Her primary focus is on getting food. In our current system this can mean waiting in line for hours at the food pantry, scheduling an appointment and paying for transportation to receive her WIC benefits, and shopping at midnight when her EBT card has been reloaded with her SNAP benefits so she can make breakfast in the morning.

Managing your family’s food budget around the emergency food system is complicated and time consuming and does not make it easy to plan ahead, shop for the best deals, and employ other money saving tactics.  And unfortunately, it does little to restore the dignity lost in knowing that you are unable to put food on the table for your children, often because of circumstances that are out of your control.

When our children aren’t fed the nutritious food they need, they are unable to develop their minds to their fullest potential. The child is set up to fail before they were even given the chance to thrive.  Statistics demonstrate that children from low-income families have lower test scores, more behavior problems, and are absent more often from school.  While there are certainly many factors that contribute to such outcomes, how many of these problems could be solved just by making sure a child has a full stomach?  How do you perform at your job when you’re hungry?

This is what motivates me and our staff every day – knowing that our work can be the difference between someone living up to their potential versus just holding on.  We have big challenges ahead to be sure, but like Senator Mitchell, I am optimistic about our future.  Here is what I have learned in my first few weeks on the job that make me hopeful we are on the right path toward a Maine where no one goes hungry:

  • Our greatest strength is our network of partner agencies – the food pantries and meal sites across Maine who are serving families in need directly. Neither of us can accomplish our mission without the other and with that shared purpose come shared solutions. We will work together to find new sources of food and get it to those in need.
  • We have an incredibly dedicated and passionate staff who are committed to our mission. They continually go above and beyond to execute their work.
  • We are distributing more fresh produce than ever. Several years ago, Good Shepherd Food Bank provided no produce. This year, we gave away 900,000 pounds of fresh produce, all from Maine farmers. Not only are we helping those in need, but we did it in a way that supported our local agricultural sector at the same time.
  • We are well on our way to completing our strategic plan. Our business model is changing. Because of improvements in retail grocery inventory systems, each year we receive less and less donated, non-perishable food and this trend will not change. At the same time, grocery stores are moving toward eliminating waste of perishable food. This is the opportunity we see, but it will require a different approach. You can view our 5 strategic priorities here.

Despite the growing need, I am confident that we will rise to the challenge and do the work that we’ve been doing for the past 30 years – we will feed Maine’s hungry.  And equally important, we strive to not just end hunger for today, but remove the fear and replace it with the security that there will be enough food tomorrow.