Several months ago I was approached to be the volunteer Director of the Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale: Maine 2012. I accepted (of course)!
Share Our Strength is a national nonprofit that is working to end child hunger in America and make sure that every child gets the food he or she needs to thrive.
Good Shepherd Food Bank’s website has a FAQ About Hunger in Maine section including Key Statistics ( 15.4 percent of Maine households, or approximately 200,000 people, are at risk of hunger AND 24.6 percent of Maine children, or 1 in every 4 kids, are food insecure (68,950 children). Maine ranks 21st in the nation, 1st in New England in terms of child food insecurity.For more information on childhood hunger in Maine visit here.
Having driven around a good part of the state in the past few months for bee stuff, poultry school, meetings and farm tours (yesterday I went to the town of Minot) I’ve seen the “other” Maine. The Maine without luxury cars, Louis Vuittons, wooden sailboats with American flags waving off the stern, $17 lobster rolls, grand “cottages” and vodka martinis. This is the Maine where you best have a pair of boots in the car for the garden/farm you’re bound to be working in/stopping by, dented maybe slightly rusted (generally) American made pickups, boarded up businesses, beautiful flower beds, green pastures, good home cooking and this has been my experience….exceptionally helpful and welcoming folk. I’m obviously stereotyping a bit here, but you’d be surprised how many people who dwell along the coast have never been to interior Maine.
One of the first accounts I had when starting to do public relations was in Millinocket, a former mill town, where I saw first-hand the destruction big business had wreaked on second generations of working class families bound by a factory paycheck. This was a place of great natural beauty and terrific dysfunctionalism. This wasn’t Somalia or Ethiopia, but for many there wasn’t work and it took outside help for people to relearn how to survive. Bartering (mowing lawns for math tutoring…) was one of the first systems outside consultants taught. Nearly 15% of the population still lives below the poverty line. This is unsexy small-town Detroit. This is 21st century county wide economic depression. This is happening all over the country and if you don’t know about it my guess is it’s because to be frank you don’t want to. Hunger and need are on nearly every street corner in America, hidden in what looks to be abandoned homes, on the outskirts of town, cascading in credit card debt two cubicles over, at shelters, under bridges and walking down main street somewhere in Maine…the state where we live the great American dream “the way life should be”…
I was guilty as the rest who are lazy about helping, after all didn’t I move here from a well paying job in a big city and hunker down on the coast for years? Didn’t I ignore all the signs and not do much for anyone other than myself for a long time? Somewhere between New York Cares and LA Works and moving to Maine I stopped volunteering. Well, let me tell you in the past ten months I’ve been making up for it and am so grateful to have been reminded about how amazing how grand giving back can be. It’s not just the exceptional people you meet, the stories you are witness to and the fun…it’s knowing finally you are part of the solution. Helping to put up what others have let fall down. I’ve written about etiquette here before – asked why people don’t say thank you or excuse me anymore (turns out you move to the “country” people hold doors open for you)…but this is so much bigger. When and why did people stop helping each other up? There are thousands of stories of people who do help, who do more than I will ever do…maybe could do, people who help in a hundred unnoticed ways throughout their lives. How about asking people to care? I mean this literally, how about having people over to your home or local favorite cafe and asking people you love to care about people who need and adopting a volunteer project?
Here’s the kind of fun project you can come up with if you are like me and enjoy helping kids learn to cook and love baked goods and being around people who make them. I partnered GABS:M12 with another Share Our Strength program Cooking Matters to produce a pie making workshop at Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center in Biddeford last week. Grace Restaurant‘s pastry chef Ilma Lopez provided the recipe and instructed the children on how to make a berry pie (our goal was to use Maine grown berries) from scratch. Everyone had a great time and each of the children were able to make and take home their own pies. The director of Joyful Harvest wrote to tell me some of the kids opted to share their pies after lunch. So sweet!!!
Ilma, Kristen (my adopted mentor in food security) and I will be coming up with more fun baking workshops this winter so stay tuned! If you bake and/or know someone who does and wants to get involved please email me at kitchens.sharon (at) gmail.com. Same thing if you know a company that sells baking equipment (mixing bowls, rolling pins, measuring cups) we are creating a baking kit to take to workshops so product donations are welcome.
A couple pics, the rest are in this Great American Bake Sale blog post.