BREWER, Maine — With more than 1,000 millworkers in Maine laid off or soon to be out of work, many families are likely to struggle to put a Thanksgiving feast on their table this year.
The ripple effect of the paper industry’s struggles stretches to loggers, the railway, restaurants and shop owners.
About 1,200 families from across the state have help on the way.
Solidarity Harvest, a collaboration of Maine farmers, donors, volunteers, businesses and nonprofits organized by the workers support group Food AND Medicine, is bagging up more than 30,000 pounds of produce, rolls and butter, which will be shipped to churches, pantries, union offices and homes from St. Agatha to Sanford. Each bag actually contains enough food to feed an average-sized family for a week, according to organizers.
This year is the biggest in Solidarity Harvest’s 12-year history, according to Food AND Medicine Director Jack McKay, in large part because the need is the largest it’s ever been. Manna ministries will provide a turkey for each bagged feast.
“This is not a handout, this is not charity, this is solidarity,” McKay said during a media event at Food AND Medicine’s Brewer headquarters on Thursday morning.
Doug Cushman, director of the Bangor Ecumenical Food Cupboard, shared how he became involved with the harvest.
Six years ago, he and his daughter were living in a Buick Century, but as winter closed in he found a home for them in Bangor. He spent every dollar he had saved up to get a roof over their heads in early November, leaving little money for a decent meal.
“If it wasn’t for a knock at the door and a bag from Solidarity Harvest, we would have had no Thanksgiving that year,” Cushman said. “As a way for me to pay back all the wonderful things this organization has done, I now volunteer here.”
Back then, the Solidarity Harvest produced just a few hundred meals.
About 40 Maine farmers and food producers contributed to the baskets, either through donations or by selling excess produce — fresh vegetables and goods there was no longer a market for — to Food AND Medicine at a reduced price.
Food AND Medicine paid farmers a total of about $20,000 for the produce that went into the baskets, according to organizers.
“The problem of food scarcity becomes especially acute during the holidays,” said the Rev. Mark Doty, pastor of Hammond Street Congregational Church. “Solidarity Harvest is a miracle for people who worry about where every meal is coming from.”
Solidarity Harvest is seeking volunteers to help assemble baskets in coming days. They especially need help on Friday night, because a large shipment of bags is scheduled to leave Saturday morning.
Those interested in helping should contact Joannah Tindongan, economic opportunities organizer and volunteer coordinator for Food AND Medicine, at email@example.com or call 989-5860.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.