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Renee Ouellette is president and CEO of University Credit Union.
This is not a new or unique message, but it is a nonetheless important one: Maine people are hungry. Maine has consistently ranked among the hungriest populations in the United States, with 1 in 8 people and 1 in 5 children struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America.
We cannot overlook the fact that included in these numbers are college students, most of whom are considered “nontraditional” in that they work full time while enrolled part time, experience financial independence, are caretakers for dependents, or do not hold a high school diploma.
According to a 2018 Government Accountability Office report, 71 percent of college students nationally are nontraditional based on this definition, while just 29 percent of college students are “traditional,” meaning they enrolled full time in college directly after high school while remaining financially dependent. Coupled with the rising cost of education and living, college students are among those struggling the most to make ends meet while they pursue education to achieve greater economic security for their families.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fight against food insecurity has never been more urgent, and the battleground has shifted; traditional students who might otherwise be on campus are back home, as are nontraditional students who live and work locally. Recognizing this, University Credit Union has broadened the scope of our annual Ending Hunger campaign to include not only campus-based food pantries, but also community-based food assistance programs, so that resources reach as many people as possible, wherever they are.
When I reflect on where public awareness of food insecurity in Maine is today, compared with three years ago when UCU started the annual Ending Hunger on Campus campaign, I am encouraged to see many more voices echoing this message and finding creative solutions to address food insecurity at the ground level. Here at UCU, many of the communities we serve have been stepping up to support Ending Hunger in Maine by taking advantage of our dollar-for-dollar donation match.
Through the end of December, UCU will match up to $25,000 in donations received to help end hunger. All funds donated through UCU will go to the Maine Credit Unions Campaign for Ending Hunger and help cover local food assistance programs’ operational expenses and inventory. Since 2017, UCU has raised over $56,000 for food pantries through our Ending Hunger campaign.
To make the most of your planned giving this holiday season, please consider making a socially distanced donation online at campaignforendinghunger.org/ucu. For those looking to give in other ways, many local food pantries need volunteers to help package and distribute food. Consider donating your time by contacting a food assistance organization in your area to ask how you can safely volunteer.
While efforts like these may seem small, they are extremely important to meet the needs of Mainers who are struggling right now. However, the reality of hunger in Maine goes deeper than not having enough to eat; it is rooted in larger economic and social challenges that must be solved if we are to truly end hunger.
“Charitable programs are unable to fully support those struggling with hunger,” and it will require a combination of charitable programs and government assistance to “help bridge the meal gap,” according to Feeding America. To echo another champion for ending hunger in Maine, Kristen Miale of Good Shepherd Food Bank, we must all recognize and embrace our individual roles in ending hunger and work together to create systemic solutions at every level of society, community, and government.
UCU was founded more than 50 years ago with a mission that remains unchanged: to advance our members’ financial wellbeing in every stage of life. We see it as an extension of this mission to help address these deeper challenges, and assist our neighbors in satisfying these immediate and basic needs. We will continue to use our voice and our actions to help the people of Maine live healthy and prosperous lives.