BRUNSWICK, Maine — Sen. Angus King returned to Brunswick, where he lives, Monday to join representatives of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Good Shepherd Food Bank in announcing a new “Backpack Program” designed to feed hungry students and their families in eight midcoast communities.
The program will send five to six pounds of nutritious, light-weight food staples, snacks and enough food for a family meal home with elementary school students on Friday night — in an effort to extend the benefits of school-lunch programs into the neediest students’ homes on weekends. Teachers will determine which children are in greatest need.
“The teachers know better than to give a test on Monday morning,” King, Maine’s independent junior senator, said to those gathered at Coffin Elementary School. “That’s a profound and disturbing observation, because it talks about performance, it talks about school, it talks about education, and we all know that education is the key to getting out of poverty. If you’re hobbled by hunger, it won’t work.”
“It really makes an impact on learning,” Jean Skorapa, principal of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick, said Monday. “If you have a hungry belly, it’s hard to learn.”
“When a child goes to school hungry, they’re being set up to fail,” said Kristin Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank, adding that teachers report improved behavior, attendance and better relationships with parents when children aren’t hungry.
“Some lives are going to be saved by this program,” King said.
The program will be the largest of its kind in Maine, expected to serve about 200 children who are food insecure, which is defined as coming from homes that lack the resources to provide regular nutritious meals. Nearly one in four Maine children suffers from food insecurity, according to Miale, or more than 60,000 kids.
The backpack program will cost approximately $50,000 each year, and will be funded by donations and grants to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.
King described the program as “the last step in the distribution chain” to get food to the people who need it.
Requests for assistance at the food pantry are up 10 percent so far this year over 2012 — “one of the neediest years,” according to Karen Parker of MCHPP.
In 2012, MCHPP served more than 35,000 meals at its soup kitchen to individuals living at or below the poverty level in Brunswick, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Durham, Harpswell, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls and Topsham.
The organization provided food to 1,155 families at its food pantry, and distributed food to more than 3,000 people through mobile food trucks.
King said that with some politicians in Washington working to cut the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, costs shift to the community.
“I’m sorry — in this society there’s no excuse for people being hungry,” King said. “This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world.”