Students Mobilize to Halt Food Insecurity in Maine

Students and faculty are taking part in a two-day conference at the University of Maine to mobilize the power of higher education to end hunger in the state.

During the Maine Hunger Dialogue on Oct. 16–17 at Wells Conference Center, participants will pack 10,000 meals to be donated to campus-based food pantries statewide.

They’ll also hear from people involved with successful programs to eradicate hunger and alleviate poverty, including Bangor native Alexander Moore, chief development officer of DC Central Kitchen and The Campus Kitchens Project.

As America’s leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise, DC Central Kitchen is at the forefront of the conversations around food waste, sustainability and workforce development.

The Campus Kitchens project takes this model to a national scale through partnerships with high schools, colleges and universities to share on-campus kitchen space, recover food from cafeterias and engage students as volunteers who prepare and deliver meals to the community.

Together, these sister nonprofits are fighting poverty through food and community empowerment. Moore, who just released his first book, “The Food Fighters: DC Central Kitchen’s First 25 Years on the Front Lines of Hunger and Poverty,” holds a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University.

Participants at the Maine Hunger Dialogue with their own creative ideas about ending hunger are encouraged to apply for $1,000 in startup funds to implement those plans.

Attendees will hear how a little help from friends made a significant difference in Dennis Willette’s life.

Several years ago, Willette was homeless and hungry. Then a farm manager at a local organic homestead enrolled Willette in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers Program. “I liked being outside, but the only thing I had ever grown were tomatoes in a white bucket,” says Willette.

During the 40-hour Master Gardener Program, he fell in love with horticulture, was inspired by people he met and was motivated by the ability to help feed himself and others. He learned to can fresh vegetables and he built a root cellar.

“It was life-changing for me,” he says.

Now a Master Gardener Volunteer, Willette has a place to call home, is enrolled at York County Community College and gives back to the community.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator Barbara Murphy says a goal of the conference is for participants to become motivated, prepared and sufficiently connected to make a similar positive difference for some of the other estimated 200,000 Mainers, 49 million Americans and 892 million hungry people on the planet.

In 2000, UMaine Extension initiated Maine Harvest for Hunger to address food insecurity by encouraging farmers and gardeners to donate fresh fruits and vegetables to soup kitchens, food pantries and people in need.

In the last 13 Harvest for Hunger growing seasons, UMaine Extension and participating gardeners, farmers, civic organizations, schools, businesses and volunteers have donated more than 600 tons of fresh produce.

This inaugural Maine Hunger Dialogue, says Murphy, grew out of a desire to do more.

“Participants of the Hunger Dialogue will be given the rare opportunity to both learn and take action on hunger. The Maine Hunger Dialogue is featuring fascinating people who are working in innovative ways to reduce hunger both locally and globally, from putting an iron fish in cooking pots to redirecting food surplus from campus kitchens,” Murphy says.

“In addition to being inspired, attendees will be given the time and expertise needed to create hunger related projects that can be implemented on their campuses or in their communities. It promises to be an event that captures both hearts and minds.”

Sponsors are Cooperative Extension, Maine Campus Compact,Sodexo, Bangor Savings Bank, Aetna Insurance, AARP Foundation, Allagash Brewing Company, Black Bear Inn, University Inn, CignaandUMaine Auxiliary Services.

For more information, including the conference agenda, and to register, visit

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777