BREWER, Maine — Area businesses have stepped up to provide storage space for more than 30,000 pounds of food that will help struggling Maine families have a bountiful Thanksgiving feast.
In the basement of Geaghan’s Pub in Bangor, bags of beets, turnips and huge carrots are stacked in a new walk-in fridge which soon will be used to store kegs of beer as part of the business’s brewery expansion.
Sea Dog Brewing Co., Eastern Maine Community College, Natural Living Center, along with some private homeowners, have offered storage space for food that will soon be distributed to more than 1,100 families from across the state. There’s enough to feed 8,000 people, according to Jack McKay, president of Eastern Maine Labor Council and director of Food AND Medicine.
The effort is called the Solidarity Harvest, a collaboration of Maine farmers, donors, volunteers, businesses and nonprofits, who have produced or collected more than 20,000 pounds of produce and 10,000 pounds of turkeys, stuffing, rolls and more to ensure Maine families that have fallen on hard times can still have a Thanksgiving meal together.
Manna Ministries is pitching in to provide more than 1,000 turkeys, one for each family.
Area farms pitched in, growing thousands of pounds of vegetables, which they sold at reduced rates to Food AND Medicine. Elsie Gawler of North Branch Farm in Monroe said her farm produced more than 750 pounds of winter squash and 850 pounds of onions for the effort.
The Solidarity Harvest began in 2003 after layoffs at Bucksport’s paper mill. It continued the next year when Eastern Fine Paper Co. in Brewer shut down. Volunteers delivered about 130 baskets in each of those years. The effort was relatively steady until 2011, when it grew to 550 baskets. This year, there will be more than 1,000 baskets.
In the first year, there weren’t any plans to extend the Solidarity Harvest beyond 2003, according to Erin Sweeney, agriculture organizer for Food AND Medicine.
“However, due to the continued loss of good jobs in Maine, as more manufacturing is sent overseas, good jobs that pay a living wage are scarce, and folks are forced to take two or three low-paying jobs without benefits to pay their bills,” she said, and the group saw the need for help would continue for many Mainers.
“When folks do not receive health care or other benefits from their employers, it is that much harder to pay for a special meal at the holidays,” she said.
Food AND Medicine expects the need will continue to expand the effort, but the group’s capacity to meet that need may be maxed out for now.
“Every year, we see more layoffs and therefore have more names of people in need,” Sweeney said. “The project has also expanded from just here in Eastern Maine to the western and southern labor councils, as well as Downeast and northern parts of the state. Through this expansion, we’ve found many more folks that need meals. We anticipate that the need will continue to grow, but our capacity will likely keep the project at its current level of reach.”
The project was founded by and for unions, and they are the primary donors for the project, so they submit the names of laid-off workers and members experiencing hard times who will get first priority to receive food. Then, food can be distributed to other families in the FAM network, according to Sweeney.
On Nov. 22, Food AND Medicine will begin distributing baskets, a process that will take about four days.
For more information or to volunteer for the Solidarity Harvest and opportunities to volunteer, visit http://www.foodandmedicine.org.