FARMINGTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A loss of emergency food and shelter funds in two of Maine's poorest counties has officials scrambling to find other sources of money to help keep people from going hungry.
"For many of these food pantries, it is the bulk of their budget, the bulk of their ability to serve our local communities," stated Lisa Laflin, executive director United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.
"We work with nine area food pantries through the emergency food and shelter program, and every year for the past 20 years or so we have received an allocation from our emergency food and shelter federal program."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency awards the funding based on several criteria, including poverty and unemployment rates. While Franklin County saw a roughly 40% reduction in funds last year, the amount was appealed and more money was given to be dispersed throughout the region. This year though, Franklin and Oxford counties both did not receive any funds.
"We were shocked actually, for a couple of reasons," said Laflin. "One is we have been trading places with Piscatiquas and Oxford Counties, and Washington County, for the poorest county in Maine. Maine is the 7th ranked state for hunger in the nation. So both being from a poor state, and from a poorer county, we felt confident that we would once again be receiving emergency food and shelter dollars."
"We had a big drop last year, and then nothing this year," said Carolyn McLaughlin, co-director of the Care and Share Food Closet, the largest food pantry in Franklin County, which serves more than 600 people a month. "I think we've been really generous, but perhaps in this past year we have had to look at little more carefully at what we are serving. We are meeting needs, but not very fancy needs."
Several of the food closet's freezers are empty, and McLaughlin says they can only do so much. She says as more people hear about the situation, they have contacted her to make a donation, either in cash or food.
"We are a strong community, and we've really got a good group of people here that will pitch in and help," she stated.
The loss of funding comes at a time when pantries, like many other community organizations, are seeing an increase in folks looking for help.
"We are definitely seeing it at the United Way, the increasing number of calls and emails and requests around food and around heating assistance," explained Laflin. "You are making choices now in your every day life as to whether you are going to eat, whether you are going to stay healthy, whether you are going to stay warm, and those challenges are hard enough, to have this news, that it is going to be even harder."