HARPSWELL — The Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program is rolling out its mobile food pantry next week for the first time in Harpswell.
It will be the first time the program has operated a food pantry outside the headquarters in Brunswick.
MCHPP Program Director Ethan Minton said some of the biggest obstacles to food access are geography and transportation, and it’s hard to think of a place where these factors come together more prominently than Harpswell, with its long, protruding peninsula and its many islands.
That means a round trip to the grocery store or food pantry can take 30 minutes of driving, or longer.
And the need for better, more frequent food access is there: MCHPP served 60 households in Harpswell last year.
At the Harpswell Community School, 94 of the school’s 190 students enrolled in 2014-2015 – or just less than 50 percent – qualified for free or reduced lunch, according to data from the Maine Department of Education.
“That’s an indicator that we have families that are really struggling with trying to provide,” Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said in an interview Wednesday.
To try to bridge the gap in food access, MCHPP is organizing its first off-site mobile food pantry at the Harpswell Town Office this month.
On Thursday, Jan. 28, from 10-11:30 a.m., the “Food Mobile,” provided by the Good Shepherd Food Bank, will be stationed in the town office’s back parking lot.
Families can come and fill up bags or boxes of food with winter vegetables, meat and canned goods, no questions asked. Minton estimates there will be 5,000-6,000 pounds of food on site.
“We’re just trying to make it easier for families (to get food),” Eiane said Wednesday. “We’re removing barriers.”
Bringing food into rural communities is part of the Brunswick-based nonprofit’s long-term vision, Minton said.
Minton and MCHPP staff will continue working with the town after Jan. 28 to decide how to move forward with the program.
Eiane said she doesn’t yet know if the mobile food pantry will come on a weekly or monthly basis, but next Thursday’s event “will certainly not be the last.”
“We’ll see what happens,” she said, “and then go from there.”
Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program’s Food Mobile, provided by the Good Shepherd Food Bank, in Brunswick.