Belfast church offers forum on poverty, food concerns in Waldo County

Posted June 05, 2011, at 7:52 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — When Lynn was growing up, her family didn’t have much money.

“I didn’t have fresh fruit or vegetables. At Christmas we’d get an orange in our stockings. That was the only fresh produce I’d have during the year,” she said.

Now that she is grown, feeding her own children can be a challenge.

“There have been times as a parent where I’ve had to feed eight people on $60 a week,” she said. “Everything needs to be made from scratch. I think it’s a wonderful skill to teach my children. It’s a daily struggle at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Lynn, who asked that her last name not be published, was one of about a dozen people who attended the weekly forum on poverty the Belfast Unitarian Universalist Church hosts. Sunday’s talk was about food and poverty.

More than 13 percent of Maine households — more than 175,000 people — are unable to consistently access adequate amounts of nutritious food, according to Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

“I think the hunger problem in Waldo County is a hell of a lot bigger than we think it is,” said Alex Allmayer-Beck, who runs Belfast Soup Kitchen. “Hunger in Maine is very, very prevalent. We’re getting more and more people in the soup kitchen.”

The soup kitchen has been open for one year.

“The people who come are mostly underemployed or unemployed. They’re not destitute, but they’re people who make choices — do I buy my medication or buy food? We have a lot of homeless people come in — the majority of them are veterans,” Allmayer-Beck said.

In the long term, Allmayer-Beck wants to build a homeless shelter in Waldo County in addition to the soup kitchen.

“One woman this winter in a lean-to was in danger of freezing to death,” he said. Others sleep under the bridge in town or in the gazebo by the harbor.

But right now, the soup kitchen sticks to soup.

“I’ve been at a place in my life where I’ve eaten food — a lot of starchy foods, lots of rice and beans instead of vegetables because of financial concerns,” said Jennifer Hill, who helps lead the poverty talks at the church. “Food was always the thing I could scrimp on.”

Sue Blais, of Shakey Ledge Farm in Waldo, was one of the guest speakers at the forum Sunday.

Blais recently went to another talk on poverty where she heard that poor elderly people in Maine have the hardest time getting fresh foods. She decided to do something about it in Waldo County. She and a handful of others are working to grow vegetables and deliver them to “shut ins” through the program Maine Harvest for Hunger. The program asks gardeners to donate extra produce to people who need it.

Blais volunteers her land and others come plant, weed and pick the food. Then other volunteers bring it to people in need.

“We ask them if they can help us by taking some vegetables off our hands. We’ll say ‘I know you have five kids and no car, but could you help us?’ That’s how we say it,” Blais said.

The goal of the poverty talks at the church is to unite people and raise awareness about poverty-related problems and solutions. The next talk is about literacy and will be 11:30 a.m. Sunday, June 12 at the Unitarian Universalist church on Miller Street in Belfast.

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