February 5, 2023

Bringing Food Home

Our County Landscape - What's Really Going On?

Over the past year, I have traveled extensively across Lincoln County delivering food and supplies to people in need. Most of the deliveries are to folks that are homebound for a variety of reasons. Many are older adults who no longer drive; they rely on the food from their area food pantry because they can’t stretch their government food benefits the entire month. Some are young mothers who share a vehicle with their partner, and can’t make it to the food pantry when it’s open. A two-vehicle household is still a middle-class luxury, which many families aspire to but have not yet achieved. Most people are struggling to keep one vehicle on the road, and if you ask them what they need the most, it’s “Tires that aren’t bald!” or, “Working brakes and a new sticker!”

Each week I find myself delivering more emergency boxes of food to people. They need something to get them by until a check comes in, their government benefits renew, or the food pantry opens. These emergency requests have been increasing since the holidays ended. “I’ve never run out of food stamps before the end of the month before,” shared an older client. “I went to the store this weekend and bought 300 dollars’ worth of food, but my kids went through it so quick, and now we have nothing,” shared a Dad of three. When food costs are as high as they are, what gets cut from the budget first are cleaning supplies and toiletries. I delivered a box of cleaning supplies to a woman last week, and her face lit up with pure joy. I never thought I’d get such a reaction over Swiffer wipes and laundry detergent.

We know things are out of control with inflation right now. Even the most affluent have seen the price increase at the register, and hesitate at grabbing two of their go-to snacks, now that costs have doubled. Instead of tossing the grocery store flyers that come in the mail, I read them cover to cover, like a John Grisham novel, delighting at finding sales that resemble 2019 prices. Then there’s the housing and rent situation. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Lincoln County is $1,600, which is much higher than most people’s mortgages. News Center Maine reported in June of 2022 that Maine has seen a 39% increase in rent since the pandemic. I believe that number has climbed even higher over the past few months. How can people get ahead with these kind of costs?

Just last week, my colleagues and I headed out to do a point-in-time census, to determine how many families were experiencing homelessness in our county on a single night. We found a staggering 21 families that are staying in campers, vehicles, or other makeshift housing situations, like uninsulated sheds. This does not count the number of people that are “couch-surfing”, or staying with friends and family. Many are too proud to come forward. At Healthy Lincoln County, we are planning deliveries every few weeks to these families, to hand out blankets, water, toiletries, food, and other supplies. I never thought we’d be doing homeless outreach in our county with such regularity, but here we are.

These facts are not meant to scare you, but to get you thinking about solutions. The pandemic disrupted our sense of community, isolated us from our neighbors, and gave us blinders. It’s time to take those blinders off, and look around your neighborhood with new eyes. Do you see a camper with hay around the bottom for insulation, or a tarp tied down on top? Perhaps you could leave a gallon of water, and a homemade meal for this neighbor. If you are a property manager, could you look at your bottom line, and see if rents could be reduced? A reduction of $75 in rent could mean the world to a struggling family. Even if you only have words of support to offer someone, give those words willingly and often. For your county, for your town, for your neighbors. It's time we enact change and better support our community.

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