On Sunday, Feb. 26, The Rotary and Lions clubs of Damariscotta-Newcastle will sponsor another concerted step to alleviate hunger in Lincoln County, raise awareness of the hunger issue, and provide a volunteer opportunity that brings the community together to help each other.
Seventy volunteers will be needed at the Central Lincoln County YMCA in order to pack 20,000 vitamin-fortified meals to be distributed to area food pantries. As of early February, approximately 40 people had signed up, including Lions, Rotarians, the Lincoln Academy Rotary Interact Club, and the Central Lincoln County YMCA Community Service Club. Volunteers will gather at noon on Feb. 26 to pack and seal dried macaroni-and-cheese and cinnamon-apple oatmeal into six-serving bags. The meals retain their freshness and their extra nutritional value for two years.
The goal is get the 20,000 meals — 3,333 bags, 36 meals per box, 93 boxes — packed and into cartons for the pantries in four hours of assembly-line cooperation. The nonprofit company that supplies the food is called Outreach International, which consistently obtains the highest rating on Charity Navigator. The company spends only 2.2 percent of its charity intake on fundraising and advertising.
The local Rotary and Lions clubs raised the $5,000 needed to pay for the 20,000 meals by a Rotary Club raffle last summer of a paddleboard in front of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta, and by the annual Rotary-Lions holiday food solicitation at the Damariscotta post office and Yellowfront Grocery between Thanksgiving and Christmas. More than 100 volunteers — many who were not Rotarians or Lions but simply townspeople who wanted to help — enthusiastically participated.
Rotarian Myers, coordinator of the Feb. 26 event, said the event “is part of a 10-year commitment on the part of Rotary to alleviate hunger in Lincoln County. How are we doing, three years in? I feel pleased with what our small group of volunteers has been able to do together, but we have a long way to go. We do know some basic statistics and they are troubling: one in eight or nine people on the planet experiences chronic food insecurity.” In the United States, 13 percent of households were food-insecure in 2015.
“Our situation is even more serious here in Maine,” Myers said. “Food-bank demand continues to increase in our state even as it is falling nationally. A story posted on the (Portland) Press Herald website on Feb. 8 reported on the results of a study undertaken by the Portland-based social service agency Preble Street and Good Shepherd Food Bank: 15 percent of Maine households experience food insecurity — the third highest percentage among all 50 states. Our children, our elderly, and our disabled in Maine are the hardest hit.”
Myers said that “there are many effective and creative local efforts being made to address the challenge. For example, using land managed by the Damariscotta River Association, Megan Taft and Sara Cawthon’s recently established Twin Villages Foodbank Farm has planted two acres of vegetables to be distributed to area pantries. The Chewonki Foundation and Morris Farm have been sponsoring a yearly food conference, and the third one will be at Chewonki on Saturday, March 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. FARMS (Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools) offers cooking classes where folks can learn to prepare inexpensive, tasty, and nourishing vegetarian meals, and Rotary has been supporting FARMS with grants.
“I believe that as more and more of us wake up to the seriousness of the problem, together we will eventually solve it,” Myers said. “Obviously, systemic solutions are tied up with larger questions about our American priorities and values, but it does feel good to be doing what we can locally.”
People interested in volunteering for the Feb. 26 event should contact Winslow Myers at 350-6502. “It’s always a fun time, even if we all have to wear wonky hair nets,” he said.