Region responds to hoping to halt hunger effort

A BUSINESS CHALLENGE was held to see which business could donate the most weight in food to area pantries during the Stuff the Truck Fundraiser sponsored by Hannaford. Chalmers Insurance Group claimed the winning spot. Holding food items on the side of the trailer are (back row, left to right) Hannaford Assistant Store Manager Wayne Ward, Produce Associate Jess Jones, Nutritionist Dona Forke, and Chalmers employees Grace Keef and Kristine Karlsson. In the front row are: Hannaford Associate Relations Manager Rob Menezes, Customer Service Leader Cullen Shaw and Chalmers staff Rosemary Leonard and Sally Sundborg. (De Busk Photo)

A BUSINESS CHALLENGE was held to see which business could donate the most weight in food to area pantries during the Stuff the Truck Fundraiser sponsored by Hannaford. Chalmers Insurance Group claimed the winning spot. Holding food items on the side of the trailer are (back row, left to right) Hannaford Assistant Store Manager Wayne Ward, Produce Associate Jess Jones, Nutritionist Dona Forke, and Chalmers employees Grace Keef and Kristine Karlsson. In the front row are: Hannaford Associate Relations Manager Rob Menezes, Customer Service Leader Cullen Shaw and Chalmers staff Rosemary Leonard and Sally Sundborg. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — It began as ideas written on pieces of paper and spoken aloud during planning meetings almost six months ago.

Those concepts panned out as the events and food drives held throughout the Lake Region as part of Hunger Action Month during the month of September.

Those local fundraisers brought in thousands of dollars and more than 1,000 pounds of food for area pantries.

In fact, this month’s Rise Up and Walk for Hunger event, which was sponsored by the Bridgton Alliance Church, raised $2,776 for seven local pantries.Nancy Grigg played a huge part in that fundraiser.

Meanwhile, when a challenge was put forward to area businesses to see which one could donate the most food by weight, Chalmers Insurance Group of Bridgton stepped up to the plate as a team. The efforts of Chalmers’ employees added more than 600 pounds of food to pantries around the region. The staff at Chalmers pointed fingers in the direction of Buffy Blankenship, saying she had been inspirational in the company’s involvement with the business challenge food drive.

The Stuff the Truck event was held on Friday; and on Saturday, an Oxford-based Girl Scout Troop divvied up the food items under the guidance of leader Denise Laport.

On Tuesday morning as the month came to a close, the organizers of Hunger Action Month (HAM) released eight orange balloons into the atmosphere.

CrossWalk Community Outreach Executive Director Joanna Moore planned the balloon release to be a symbolic and celebratory closing ritual.

“We are quickly, as a team, drawing to a close of our first annual Hunger Action Month series of events. What a month it has been! What an outstanding time it has been with all of you (volunteers.). What amazing things were achieved by all of your efforts,” Moore said in an e-mail.

“I couldn't be more elated about this,” she said, admitting she was already planning activities for next September.

Virginia “Tilla” Durr, one HAM committee member, recalled the month and the preparation behind the scenes.

“From the very beginning attending the Hunger Action Task force was a joyful and eye-opening experience for me because I was privileged to witness diverse representatives of Cumberland County — all dedicated to wiping out hunger — coming together from different perspectives and abilities and making a difference together,” Durr said.

“I applaud Joanna Moore for her amazing organizing skills. We all felt we were supported as well as permitted to use our unique passion in service of the whole of the Cumberland area,” Durr said.

Hannaford Associate Relations Manager Rob Menezes, who also served on the HAM committee, described it as a learning experience.

“I really enjoyed the whole process from the planning stages to the execution. It was great seeing all the community organizations come together for a common goal. I learned so much about the problem of food insecurity in our community and I was so proud to be a part of this incredible team of volunteers,” Menezes said.

Both participants and volunteers at the Empty Bowls fundraising dinner, which was held in mid-September, heard hard statistics and real-life situations from the guest speakers that evening.

“Being a father it really hit home to hear about how seriously hunger impacts our children. It really bothers me to know that so many kids are struggling to get through the day because they don’t have access to the basic nutritious foods they need to fuel their minds and bodies,” Menezes said.

He was also involved with the Stuff the Truck food drive, which was sponsored by Hannaford. “The community was very generous with donations of cash and food items. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our customers and this is really encouraging,” he said.

“I am very happy with the results. This was our first year and we received over 1100 pounds of food donations and several hundred dollars in cash donations,” he said.

“Now that we’ve got the word out about this campaign, I can’t wait to see how much the support grows next year,” Menezes said.

Moore said the food drive was successful in stocking the shelves of area pantries plus it addresses an immediate need.

“Our emergency food system of pantries, kitchens, and those types of services has grown in numbers dramatically since the 1970s. But, they were never really intended to be long-term solutions for feeding our neighbors in need. They are the lifeline right now to many families,” Moore said.

Knowledge is key, she said. That includes making the public more aware of food insecurity as well teaching others how to grow their own food through home gardening.

“But that is just the tip of the iceberg. I believe we need to find a way to revive our small local farms, and to encourage more local business to come to our community so that our citizens can have more employment opportunities,” Moore said.

Durr, a volunteer at the Sweden Food Pantry, as well as a recipient of the food distributed from there, said there are many obstacles to alleviating hunger. But, she is hopeful.

“There are so many challenges. I, myself, am pleased by the new community gardens that are being created; and (I) am hoping that Bridgton and Cumberland County can begin thinking about quality of life and economic possibilities improving through the sustainable agriculture business,” she said.

“I believe all who live and who work in this community have a part to play in ending hunger and bringing about more jobs,” Durr said.

Please follow and like us: