September is Hunger Action Month, a time when we focus on ending hunger in our communities. It's an issue that resonates with me, not just as a legislator but as a parent, a school counselor, and a lifelong resident of Lincoln County. It is easy for some of us to forget how many people are affected by food insecurity — many of them are working Mainers, children, and retired people on fixed incomes. When we talk about tackling hunger, we're not just talking about food. We need to make sure there are systems and supports in place, so our friends and neighbors don’t have to suffer the grinding anxiety that comes with food insecurity. Hunger is not a far-off issue, it's here.
In a state as abundant in natural resources as Maine, we all must pull together to ensure no one goes to bed hungry. There is some legislative progress being made on this issue. Maine is working to implement the Roadmap to End Hunger by 2030, a goal created by LD 1159 in the 129th Legislature and sponsored by my colleague, Sen. Craig Hickman, during his time as a Representative in the House. That’s why the work we're doing in Augusta is so critical, especially this month.
One key achievement in our fight against hunger came in March with the passing of the Continuing Services Budget. This budget continued to fund universal free school meals for every Maine student, regardless of income. I have seen the difference this policy has made in schools, and I find it overwhelmingly positive. We have more students who need food able to access it at school — and with less social stigma attached. The budget also included $2 million in one-time funding for a food hub capital investment grant. This grant aims to provide up to 10,000 prepared meals per day for unhoused, sheltered, or other food-insecure people. This is another step toward bridging the hunger gap.
As part of our efforts to combat hunger and provide healthy meals to our kids, I’m happy that Gov. Mills recently signed into law a bill I sponsored: LD 921, “An Act to Allow the Local Foods Fund for Public Schools to Be Used for Processed and Value-added Maine Food Products.” Behind this lengthy title is a simple idea: Let’s put more local food on our students’ plates.
This bill expands the already popular and successful Local Foods Fund — which reimburses schools for purchasing locally-produced food products — to include more Maine-made products. We're achieving multiple goals by enabling our public schools to purchase a wider variety of locally-produced foods. We are ensuring smaller schools with less kitchen capacity or smaller staff can access local food that works for them. We're ensuring that children can get the quality, nutritious food they need at school, and we're doing it by investing in our local farmers, fisheries, and processors — which is good for our local economy and supports vital businesses. It is important we all look out for each other.
If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity or you would like to donate, please know there are local resources that can help. We are lucky to have several great food pantries in our area. By going to www.gsfb.org/get-help/food-map/, you can type in your ZIP code and find the pantries nearest you. There are also a number of Help Yourself Shelves throughout the district. These are available for everyone.
If you would like more information about your options, I recommend contacting Healthy Lincoln County’s hotline at (207) 350-0536. Leave a voicemail with your name, phone number, town, and the type of assistance you’re looking for, and a navigator will call you back, usually in less than 24 hours. You can also text your information to that number.
Please remember, everyone needs help sometimes! These resources are here to be used and to support our communities.
If you have questions about the bills and laws that we worked on to end hunger in Maine or need help with a problem, please feel free to contact me directly at Cameron.Reny@legislature.maine.gov. You can also call my Senate office at (207) 287-1515. It is an honor to serve as your State Senator in Augusta.