Hunger in Hancock County
By Judith Hilliker, Tree of Life Pantry Board President
published in the letters section of the Daily Packet

A recent Feeding America study found that 15.6 percent of the people living in Hancock County struggle with food insecurity. The Tree of Life food pantry addresses that problem by giving over 6,000 pounds of supplemental food a week to local families in need. The majority of the food we distribute is purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank, but we also use grant money to buy fresh produce from local farms and we buy eggs, milk and other food items from retailers. Many local farms, greenhouses, businesses and individuals also bring us generous donations. Over the past few years the food pantry has been working to provide more nutritious fresh food to our pantry users. Studies show that the problem of hunger in Maine is not access to calories but lack of access to nutritious food. People with limited means often purchase high-calorie, low-nutrient food because it is inexpensive. This can lead to chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein cost more money. At Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Tree of Life we are trying to provide higher quality food. Every Thursday we now have fresh milk, eggs, onions, potatoes, carrots, winter squash, apples, bananas, and fresh produce from local farms. We provide recipes and tasting samples to help people learn to use fresh vegetables and alternative protein sources. On our shelves we still have canned tuna, peanut butter, dried and canned beans, low salt canned vegetables, flour, cornmeal and other baking supplies, shelf stable box milk, brown rice, pastas, canned tomato products, box cereal, oats, and bread products. Some items that we used to buy from Good Shepherd, such as canned beef stew, deviled ham, jelly, fruit in sugar syrup and high salt soups, are no longer available. The food pantry is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We provide supplemental food to about 200 families every week. Anyone who is in need is welcome at the pantry. Our registration process is simple and pantry users choose the food items that their family will eat using our quantity guidelines. We are proud of our organization and welcome you to come and see us in operation. Early Thursday mornings are very busy but, if you come any time between 11 and 3, a pantry volunteer would be happy to give you a tour.