BANGOR, Maine (News Center)-- The United Way says more than twenty percent of households across the state do not have enough food to feed their families. This is what United Way calls food insecure. It's what inspired the organization to start their annual Pantry Project five years ago. Today United Way kicked off their fifth annual Pantry Project at Hollywood Casino, one of their twelve partners helping them collect food for empty food pantries.

Shelves of food line the wall at the Hollywood Casino, just one area business collecting for the fifth annual United Way Food Pantry Project. Their goal- to stock empty food pantries across Maine so that no family will have to cut out meals this winter.

Melissa Huston of the Good Shepherd Food Bank said, "It really forces families to make a decision between do they pay for heat or do they sacrifice something from their grocery budget."

That's a sacrifice United Way and Good Shepard Food Bank don't want anyone to have to make. Together the two organizations make up the Pantry project. United Way provides local businesses with shelves for the staff and employees to fill. After a month, Good Shepard brings the collection to food pantries in need of donations.

"We work with our agency reps to determine which of the pantries in their five county service area are either seeing an extreme high need or maybe really be lacking in resources," Huston said.

And the food pantries needs are much higher this time of year.

President of United Way of Easter Maine, John Kuropchak, said, "What we find is people are very generous over the holidays, but come January, the food dries up."

The organization currently has twelve businesses like Hollywood Casino collecting food, but they are looking for fifty. To attract attention to the cause, the casino gets creative with their donations.

"What we've done in the past is created a sculpture of cans," said Michele Collins of Hollywood Casino in Bangor.

This year they had a local artist turn their initial collection of fifteen hundred cans into a giant snowbird to display in the lobby. The United Way Pantry Project will run until the end of April. The goal this year is to collect more than six thousand pounds of food. If they reach their goal, the food will provide five thousand much needed meals to hungry Mainers.

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