On a trip to a public housing complex in Presque Isle last summer, Sherry Locke, executive director of the United Way of Aroostook, and Jamie Guerrette, a community health specialist for The Aroostook Medical Center (TAMC), spotted a seven-year-old boy eating a cattail plant he pulled out of the marsh behind the housing authority building. When they questioned him, the boy replied very matter-of-factly that cattails were safe to eat. They soon realized he was eating that plant because he was hungry.
“When we left, we knew we had to do something. This is a problem, and it's going to be a problem every summer when there's a split harvest,” Sherry said.
During a split harvest, Presque Isle High School students return to school for three weeks in August so they can take time off in late September to early October to help harvest potatoes. When they're in school in August, the MSAD 1 school district can no longer offer the federally funded summer school lunch program to its elementary and junior high school students.
“All of us within EMHS are very aware of the struggle with food insecurity across the state of Maine and in the communities we serve. We are equally committed to finding a solution to that problem.”
- Terri Vieira, MHA, FACHE
To meet the need, TAMC and the United Way partnered with the city of Presque Isle and the Presque Isle Housing Authority to create the Summer Gap meals program. That program provides healthy lunches to 250 MSAD 1 students. “I'm thankful for TAMC and this program because it helps make sure that every kid gets the food they need,” explained Heather Fickel, one of the mothers whose child takes advantage of the program.
Rural Community services like the Summer Gap meals program are helping people live healthier lives in communities throughout our system. At Sebasticook Valley Health (SVH) in Pittsfield, they are also helping people battle food insecurity thanks to a “Partnership to Improve Community Health” (PICH) grant that helped SVH and other member organizations set up “screen and intervene” initiatives. Under screen and intervene, the staff at primary care practices ask patients two questions at their regular checkups that evaluate if a person has run out of food or has struggled to purchase food in the last year. If the answer to either question is ‘yes,’ then patients receive a resource guide about available programs. Thanks to a partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, the practices can also provide bags filled with a three-day food supply to hold people over until they can get to a local food pantry.
“All of us within EMHS are very aware of the struggle with food insecurity across the state of Maine and in the communities we serve. We are equally committed to finding a solution to that problem because no one should ever wonder where their next meal is coming from,” explained Terri Vieira, MHA, FACHE, president of SVH and Charles A. Dean Memorial Hospital.