Feeding Maine’s hungry has become more challenging as the need has grown

By Diane Dunton, Special to the BDN
Posted July 08, 2011, at 8:52 p.m.

A July 4 article in the Bangor Daily News, “Food pantries upset over rising Good Shepherd Food-Bank fees” presented some of the challenges that Good Shepherd Food-Bank faces in providing food for many thousands of hungry Maine families every day.

However, the reporter unfortunately chose to focus on complaints from a few organizations rather than put the spotlight where it belongs — on the serious problem of hunger in Maine.

We understand the frustration of the food pantries that are struggling to meet the increasing demand for emergency food. We share it, too, because we are facing the same issues they are — more people to feed, higher costs and diminishing resources — only on a much larger scale.

We wish that we could supply free food for all Mainers who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We are saddened that one in five Maine children are not getting the food they need. And despite the incredible generosity of our donors, we are troubled that it is still not enough to feed the 200,000 Mainers who go hungry every day.

As the only statewide hunger relief organization in Maine, we gather 12 million pounds of food annually and distribute it to more than 600 partner organizations in every county in Maine. We have distribution centers in Auburn, Portland and Brewer, and share a warehouse in Caribou with Catholic Charities. We operate a fleet of nine trucks that are on the road daily picking up food and delivering it to every corner of the state.

While it takes a significant amount of expertise, money and hard work to run this increasingly complex organization, our mission — to feed Maine’s hungry — has not changed since the day we were founded by JoAnn Pike 30 years ago.

The food we distribute comes from two primary sources — salvage products that are donated and food we purchase. Our member agencies pay a shared maintenance fee of 16 cents per pound for most salvage products. However, as the amount of salvage collected from retail stores decreases due to their increased efficiency and other factors beyond our control, we have had to increase the amount of food we purchase.

Purchased products are not a revenue stream for the Food Bank. We buy basic foods needed by our partners, like canned tuna, at prices well below retail and then pass those savings on to our partners. In fact, our average charge for purchased products is well below $1 per pound, not the $2 a pound figure cited in the article.

Several categories of products are given away free of charge, including all fresh produce, bakery items and bottled water. Last year Good Shepherd also gave pantries 350,000 pounds of local food from Maine farms.

As for our relationship with ICare ministries, while it is unfortunate that we had to end our partnership, we are grateful that other organizations in the Katahdin region have stepped up to serve the community. Our termination of ICare Ministries has in no way diminished our commitment to the people of Millinocket, and we continue to devote significant resources to the area through our partners and our Food Mobile program.

The standards we uphold with our partners — used throughout the national network of Feeding America food banks — concern critical areas like food safety and diminishing barriers that may stand in the way of people in need of food. We have these standards because both our donors and the people we serve deserve them.

Finally, the article mentions that I am the sister-in-law of Good Shepherd’s CEO Rick Small, and many readers got the impression that I, not Rick, am being paid a salary of $70,000 a year. As board chair, I receive no salary and have recused myself from all votes directly concerning our CEO. His salary is far less than the average food bank leader’s salary in New England, which in 2009 was more than $93,000. I can assure you that none of us are involved in this work for the money.

Finally, Good Shepherd has grown in size, scope and complexity over the years because the need has grown tremendously, and we have stepped up to meet it. There is no mandate for us to do this work; we have been called to it and are committed feeding Maine’s hungry in the most safe and efficient way possible.

No one organization alone can feed Maine’s 200,000 hungry residents, but together, as a network of dedicated staff, volunteers and generous donors, we do everything in our power every day to eliminate hunger in our state.

Diane Dunton is the volunteer chair of the board of directors of Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/07/08/opinion/feeding-maine%e2%80%99s-hungry-has-become-more-challenging-as-the-need-has-grown/ printed on September 18, 2014