Food insecurity and healthy food are two sides of the same coin that are often discussed though very different lenses. The food bank staples that come to mind when most think of fighting food insecurity are things like pasta and tuna fish while ‘healthy’ food may evoke visions of leafy greens and fruit salads.
A balanced diet probably includes all of these foods and lies somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum. The fact that a spectrum exists in our minds and persists in so many hunger prevention programs is something Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and many others in the community are working on remedying.
At Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, merging access and health is a core part of our mission and something we strive toward daily. We partner with area farms to glean or purchase fresh and in-season produce, we offer low-sodium, sugar-free, and gluten-free options in our Pantry to Pantry program, host pop-up produce distribution events at many of our school pantry locations, incorporate fresh ingredients into our soup kitchen meals daily, and more.
We know that small changes can lead to big health gains when maintained over time and we work to provide program participants with what they need to ensure that current food insecurity does not lead to long-term health challenges.
None of this work can be done alone. Along with our efforts to get people access to nutritious options, many others in the community are working on merging food and health for individuals and families experiencing food or nutrition insecurity.
Good Shepherd Food Bank launched www.NutritionForME.org in early 2022, a site that helps people find healthy and simple recipes using common household staples. In our Neighborhood Delivery boxes, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program utilizes this site to provide recipes that feature in-season produce included in that month’s delivery.
For those struggling who may not have found their way to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program or other nutrition security resources, Hunger Vital Signs, a questionnaire developed by Children’s HealthWatch is the bridge many need. Pediatricians and Primary Care physicians ask simple screening questions during preventative care visits and are able to provide resources and referrals to local hunger prevention resources for their patients. This is an important step in both reducing stigma of using these services and improving long term health outcomes for families.
Together, all of these varied efforts are helping bring food and health together for Mainers experiencing food insecurity. There’s more to be done, but celebrating progress provides the inspiration and motivation needed to continue the work.
Alyssa Schoppee is the development manager at Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.