2013-03-22 / People

Neighbors

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


John Woods John Woods Most children in Maine begin their countdown to summer starting on the first day of school. They subtract snow days, weekends, holidays and vacation from the total number of calendar days in the school year, and come up with a magic number that is slowly whittled down until they can sleep in, play with their friends and relax without the stress of school getting in the way.

But for 69,000 children in Maine who are hungry, the impending summer break is a terrifying idea, because after the last day of school they won’t know where their next meal is coming from.

John Woods of Cape Elizabeth, chairman of Share our Strength in Maine, is working to connect those hungry Maine children to healthy and nutritious meals, and to raise awareness of the problem childhood hunger poses to society both in the state and nationwide.

Share our Strength is a national nonprofit organization that works to educate communities about childhood hunger and provide meals for children in need by raising funds for community organizations.

Woods, who has been chairman of the Maine branch of the organization for four years, was named Share Our Strength’s 2012 Advocate of the Year in a recent ceremony held before hundreds of chefs, community leaders and antihunger organizers in Baltimore, Md.

Woods said the issue with childhood hunger isn’t a scarcity of resources, but identifying the children who need help.

“There’s plenty of food in the state of Maine to feed everyone who’s hungry, and the same in the U.S.,” Woods said. “It’s a matter of building programs to connect those that are hungry with the food they need to build a healthy life.”

Maine’s childhood food insecurity rate is the highest in New England, with nearly one in four children who don’t know where they will get their next meal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Across America, the issue of childhood hunger is tied to poverty, but in Maine the problem is compounded by the rural nature of the state. More than 60 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million residents live outside urban centers, which “makes it difficult to get food to these kids when we know they need it,” Woods said.

Share our Strength hosts a number of culinary events with local chefs throughout the year to benefit other nonprofit programs that help hungry children. Woods said the organization is in a unique position in Maine because it can benefit from a food culture that has made local celebrities of chefs like Rob Evans of Duckfat and Sam Hayward of Fore Street, both in Portland.

Share our Strength’s premier event, Taste of the Nation, will feature a meal prepared by 24 of those chefs on Sunday, June 23 at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. Last year, the event raised more than $140,000 to benefit four local nonprofits. In total, Share our Strength Maine raised $170,000 in 2012 to benefit Good Shepherd Food Bank, Preble Street Teen Center, the Opportunity Alliance and Cultivating Community.

“It’s those groups that go and find the children that are hungry and build the programs that connect to children in Maine,” Woods said.

Maine’s growing reputation as a food destination and the caring nature of its residents has created what Woods called a “perfect storm” that has allowed Share our Strength to succeed in the area, a trend he hopes will continue in years to come.

“Maine is a very generous community.When you talk to Mainers, they feel strongly about what Maine is, what it represents to them and this wonderful place where we all live,” Woods said. “If you then tell them there are all these kids that are hungry, people come up with creative ways to help figure this out.”

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