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Dig Those Gardens: Maine Seniors Fight Food Insecurity

PHOTO: Jim Doyle shares his locally grown produce with the Bread for the Journey food pantry in Warren. Volunteers 50 and older are digging in to help combat food insecurity that affects about 15 percent of Maine residents. Photo courtesy ENCorps.
PHOTO: Jim Doyle shares his locally grown produce with the Bread for the Journey food pantry in Warren. Volunteers 50 and older are digging in to help combat food insecurity that affects about 15 percent of Maine residents. Photo courtesy ENCorps.
May 19, 2014

BANGOR, Maine - Food insecurity is a problem that affects about 15 percent of Maine's population. It means people do not have access to enough nutritious food on a daily basis. A program involving volunteers age 50 and older is digging in to help.

The ENCore Leadership Corps each year trains about 250 older adults in a variety of volunteer areas. Jennifer Crittenden, who helps run ENCorps out of the University of Maine Center on Aging, says the focus of the Food Security Initiative is training people to aid those eligible for food assistance programs, helping out at food banks and pantries, and getting dirt underneath their fingernails.

"We have volunteers who work on community gardens," Crittenden says, "and this is the time of year when they're starting to think about setting those up. It's a great chance to bring community members together, and also to grow some fresh food that can be given out to families locally."

Across the state, more than one in five children is food insecure. Rural counties such as Somerset and Franklin have the highest rates, but Cumberland and York counties struggle with 19 percent child-food-insecurity rates.

Crittenden says helping fight hunger taps into a lot of baby boomers' desires to give back to their communities.

"Food insecurity touches Mainers of all ages. In particular, older adults and children are at most risk of really experiencing food insecurity. It is definitely an issue that hits home for many people," she explains.

ENcore works in partnership with the Maine Community Foundation. The Food Security Initiative was launched in part with funding from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.

Crittenden says the recession and unpredictable layoffs and job elimination all have stressed the state's food banks and pantries.

"What we're trying to do is help give our volunteers the tools they need to successfully keep food pantries open, to look at sustaining those options as an emergency food source in their community," she adds.

ENCorps holds its annual Summit this weekend at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Phippsburg, where food security issues will be a focus of the community work discussions and networking.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME