BREWER — Food AND Medicine (FAM) began Solidarity Harvest in 2003 to provide laid-off union workers and their families locally-sourced Thanksgiving meal baskets. The unions gave the baskets to their members, showing that even though they may have lost their jobs, they didn’t lose their union. The program has expanded from its original target of laid-off union members to include people helped by nonprofits, churches, service and recovery organizations, such as Penquis, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, and others.
According to Josh Kauppila, FAM board member, “Solidarity Harvest provides 1,300 locally-sourced Thanksgiving baskets to Maine families experiencing hard times. Each basket has enough food to feed 8-10 people, so this effort will feed over 10,000 people. What is impressive is how lots of groups come together to make this happen. Hundreds of individuals, along with over 60 unions, businesses and non-profits contribute funds to purchase food from over 40 local farms and food producers. We then partner with over 60 unions and non-profits to distribute the baskets.”
Jack McKay, director of Food AND Medicine, describes the purpose of the Solidarity Harvest: “We want this to be solidarity and not charity. We do this in five ways: First, even though FAM is a member based grassroots organization, we distribute only about 50 baskets directly to people. We give the remaining 1,250 to partner unions and organizations so that they are strengthened in the process. Second, the people who receive the baskets are not means tested, they have enough challenges without us poking around to see what their problems are. Thirdly, we highlight and encourage people to purchase from the local farms and food producers, thereby strengthening our local economy. The harvest program is volunteer driven and over 400 volunteers play a host of roles to make it happen. Finally, we highlight root causes that puts Maine people in such challenging circumstances.”
More than 40 farms provided more than 43,000 pounds of produce, from apples to turnips, for the program. Food AND Medicine does not request donations or negotiate prices with the farmers; the farmers’ requested price is what is paid, in order to support the farm economy.
During a press conference held Nov. 16, Bruce Valley of Valley Farms in Corinna talked about how the purchases made through Solidarity Harvest benefits him. “I’m on social security, disability and the farm income is critical to getting through the year. Solidarity Harvest has been a big help to me, in fact I wouldn’t have been able to pay my taxes last year without it; it also pays for my heat,” he said, according to a Food AND Medicine press release.
More than 400 volunteers are expected to participate in preparing the baskets, in what is referred to as “Sort Week” Nov. 14-21. Each basket also contains a loaf of pumpkin bread baked by local churches, bakeries and community colleges. A box of stuffing mix is the only processed item that is included in the baskets. The stuffing is collected via a stuffing drive by a union in Southern Maine, and Lots of Tots, a child care provider in Princeton. The turkeys for the basket are donated by Penquis, following a fundraiser with WABI.
“Penquis is pleased to support Food AND Medicine’s efforts to provide Thanksgiving baskets to families facing financial instability this holiday season. We are proud to be part of this community collaboration that provides relief during a time of year when people often have to choose between food, heat, and medicine. But, more than a meal, the baskets represent families, and the community, coming together,” said Renae Muscatell, Community Relations Manager for Penquis.
Solidarity Harvest is organized by Food and Medicine and sponsored by the Eastern, Western and Southern Maine Labor Councils. Brewer non-profit, Food AND Medicine, founded in 2002 on the premise that nobody should have to choose between food, medicine and other basic necessities.
For information about Food AND Medicine, to volunteer or make a donation to “Sponsor a Meal” find Food AND Medicine on Facebook page or at www.foodandmedicine.org. For more information, contact Jack McKay at 207-989-4141, or email Jack@foodandmedicine.org.