This weekend was packed with both entertaining and informational events—the T-Pain concert and the Maine Hunger Dialogue at the University of Maine Orono, respectively. The Hunger Dialogue ran for two days, from Friday to Saturday. The first day involved various speakers from different organizations who spoke of the hunger problems that exist in Maine, while the second day focused on group discussions and trainings that utilized the key aspects that were discussed the day before.
Even though there was a particular focus on hunger in Maine, speakers Melissa Huston from the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Matthew Martin from Outreach Inc., spoke of the work their organizations have accomplished and achieved in the recent years.
The Good Shepherd Food Bank has made it their goal to assist families and teach them the proper skills to break the cycle of needing assistance. The Good Shepherd Food Bank has been increasing their size and it currently working with schools and farms to end hunger. Huston informed us that Maine has gone from number 22 to 12 in food insecurity, meaning that most families lack food and may go an entire day without eating a meal.
While SNAP, a food stamp program in Maine, is a good resource for families who are struggling to make ends meet, it does not provide enough monetary assistance to support a family of three or more. Further, often people are uncomfortable attending food banks and places that provide families with food because they believe that it signifies weakness.
Four years ago, Outreach Inc. switched to battling hunger domestically after years of battling hunger in Tanzania. Their goal has been to build enough political and public will to change the current situation in Maine. Political support is crucial in achieving goals, which then led to Senator Justin Alfond taking the microphone.
His speech was personalized, for he spoke of his experience in college, which led him towards wanting to make a change. It often escapes us that there are students in college who are hungry and need help. However, colleges students are not the only one in need of food; according to Alfond, 80 percent of the 86,000 children who rely on financial assistance and free lunches from their schools go hungry during the summer in the state of Maine, while 1 in 4 kids in Maine are food insecure throughout the year.
The day concluded with a pack-out session where everyone who attended the conference packed 10-11,000 packs of mac and cheese in total to be sent to local food banks in Maine. There was also a brief speech about an organization that provides schooling and affordable housing for migrant workers in Maine, Mano en Mano, which is run by Executive Director Ian Yaffee.
The last day of the conference was hands-on. Each Maine college and university gave a 30 second elevator speech whose purpose was to practice recruiting students. There were organized sessions dedicated to students asking questions on how to open clubs and advance their ideas.
Throughout the day the speakers reiterated ways we can recruit volunteers and provide them with the proper resources and motivation to stay involved, how to manage funding and how to encourage people to donate to the organizations and the general do’s and don’ts in running an organization. The conference focused mainly on different ways students can make an impact in society. Many students were surprised to learn that hunger was a problem among the population in Maine, for it is never talked about. In fact, there is lack of conversation regarding hunger in the United States—we mainly speak of ways we can fix hunger in developing countries in Africa, for example. The conference’s goal was to shift our focus on hunger domestically and train students to mobilize groups in colleges to raise awareness and develop new strategies to eliminate hunger.