A car goes by the old Greyhound Bus mural, in Portland on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. MaineHealth plans to use the former station as a food pantry. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — MaineHealth announced Wednesday it is opening a food pantry, in partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, in the former Greyhound bus station at 950 Congress St. in Portland.

The Portland pantry will be MaineHealth’s third; the first two were opened at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway in 2021.

Food insecurity makes a person more likely to develop a chronic disease and makes it harder to manage disease, MaineHealth says. Not being able to access healthy and nutritious food, or any food at all, can lead to disease complications, missing doses of important medication, and needing to be hospitalized. All of these factors make health care more expensive.

MaineHealth bought the bus station in 2020 and has secured city permits to renovate the building for use as a food pantry.

The work is being supported through a $200,000 investment by MaineHealth. A $100,000 donation from former Maine Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon is also funding this project.

Renovation work is expected to begin on the building next month, and MaineHealth plans to open the pantry by early fall.

The Portland pantry will initially serve MaineHealth patients, with the goal of expanding to serve the entire community as appropriate, offering healthy fresh, frozen and shelf-stable food in a convenient, trustworthy and stigma-free environment.

As of 2021, 13.5 percent of Maine’s population, or nearly 182,000 Mainers, were food insecure, meaning they lacked access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, according to the USDA and Feeding America.

Maine ranked 19th worst in the nation and second in New England in terms of household food insecurity. Maine ranked fifth worst in the nation in terms of very low household food security (chronic hunger) and first in New England.

One in five Maine children do not know where their next meal is coming from, and approximately 17,200 Mainers aged 65 and older lived in food-insecure households.