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A Westbrook food distributor is getting $1.35 million in federal funds to support both Maine farmers and low-income Mainers through a $3 billion coronavirus food assistance program that initially was set to bypass Maine completely.

Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods will use the money to buy fresh produce, dairy and meat from farmers and then to distribute it to organizations such as the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which sends food to a statewide network of food pantries. The program, Farmers to Families Food Box, was established by Congress as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed Congress in late March.

Initially, no Maine food distributors were selected to receive funding, including Native Maine Produce, which had applied. Good Shepherd Food Bank President Kristen Miale said last month that the program was initially geared toward larger distributors instead of the smaller companies that are more common in Maine.

Maine’s congressional delegation urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to re-open the bidding process for the program, and the department last week selected the Westbrook firm to provide food produced in Maine to Maine residents in need, members of the delegation said Monday.

The program’s goal is to help food pantries, which are experiencing increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic and having a hard time meeting it due to decreased inventory, as well as farmers and food distributors, who are experiencing decreased demand due to food service industry shutdowns.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Maine’s families, farmers, and food systems have been serious and are certain to persist for months to come,” members of the delegation said Monday. “This funding will support Maine farmers and producers who are struggling with decreased demand and disrupted supply chains as well as help to alleviate hunger in our communities.”

John Lunde, vice chairman of Native Maine, said Monday that the funds will be used to distribute 45,000 boxes, each holding 25 pounds of produce, to Maine food banks.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....