PORTLAND — MaineHealth announced today it is opening a food pantry, in partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, in the former Greyhound bus station at 950 Congress Street, in Portland.
This new community service supports MaineHealth’s vision of “working together so our communities are the healthiest in America” by promoting consistent access to food that will support health, according to MaineHealth, in a news release.
The Portland pantry will be MaineHealth’s third; the first two were opened at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway in 2021.
“Health and hunger are closely connected, and we know our communities alone can’t fill the needs associated with food insecurity,” said Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer. “Our Community Health Needs Assessments have identified food insecurity as the number one priority amongst social determinants of health. The food pantries are a part of our services as a health care organization, and a natural part of our continuum of care. We also believe it is necessary for us to collaborate with community partners to support and supplement existing work.”
MaineHealth bought the bus station in 2020, and has secured city permits to renovate the building for use as a food pantry. The work is being supported through a $200,000 investment by MaineHealth, coming in part through funds set aside by MaineHealth’s Board of Trustees to honor long-term former CEO Bill Caron. A $100,000 donation from former Maine Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon is also funding this project.
“Food insecurity makes a person more likely to develop a chronic disease and makes it harder to manage disease,” said MaineHealth. “Not being able to access healthy and nutritious food, or any food at all, can lead to disease complications, missing doses of important medication, and needing to be hospitalized. All of these factors make health care more expensive.”
Renovation work is expected to begin on the building next month, and MaineHealth plans to open the pantry by early fall.
“Every Mainer deserves access to healthy, nutritious food and only by working collaboratively can we make that a reality. This gift will provide immediate and significant support to an innovative partnership between MaineHealth and Good Shepherd Food Bank to help end hunger in Maine and drive down the costs of health care,” said Gideon. “I’m proud to support the direct community work happening to address food insecurity and ultimately, the health and well-being of our state.”
The Portland pantry will initially serve MaineHealth patients, with the goal of expanding to serve the entire community as appropriate, offering healthy fresh, frozen and shelf-stable food in a convenient, trustworthy and stigma-free environment.
According to the USDA and Feeding America, as of 2021, 13.5 percent of Maine’s population, or nearly 182,000 Mainers, were food insecure, meaning they lacked access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. Maine ranked 19th worst in the nation and 2nd in New England in terms of household food insecurity. Maine ranked 5th worst in the nation in terms of very low household food security (chronic hunger) and 1st in New England. One in five Maine children does not know where their next meal is coming from, and approximately 17,200 Mainers aged 65 and older lived in food-insecure households.
“The mission of Good Shepherd Food Bank is to improve access to nutritious food to people in need,” said Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. “A hospital-based food pantry has a special focus on addressing the nutritional needs of their patients and is often better positioned to provide wrap-around services such as access to healthcare, safe and reliable transportation, and housing assistance through partnerships with community-based organizations and other hospital programming. The Food Bank is looking forward to helping MaineHealth meet the need with this new location.”
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit integrated health system whose vision is “Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.” It consists of nine local health systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and 1,700 employed providers working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With approximately 22,000 employees, MaineHealth provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. It includes Franklin Memorial Hospital/Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Behavioral Healthcare in South Portland, MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, NorDx in Scarborough, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital in Rockport and Belfast, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook and Stephens Memorial Hospital/Western Maine Health Care in Norway. MaineHealth Affiliates include Maine General Health in Augusta and Waterville, New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. It is also a significant stakeholder in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.