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Honors College forgoes annual Maine Day Meal Packout event for month-long Hunger Awareness campaign

Normally, the University of Maine Honors College would host their annual Meal Packout event to combat food insecurity in the state of Maine on Maine Day. But  this year, things are going to look a little different. While the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled the in-person Maine Day Meal Packout, the Honors College has found some fun and unique ways to bring attention to food insecurity. 

In addition to fighting hunger in Maine, the UMaine Honors College Student Advisory Board (SAB) is also participating in the Black Bear Exchange’s It’s Personal campaign, which is being run by the Honors Student Ambassadors.

Maine is ranked ninth in the country in food insecurity, with around 190,000 residents being food insecure. This statistic also includes children, where one in five face food insecurity.

In previous years, the Maine Day Meal Packout event saw upwards of 200 volunteers who worked to pack around 72,000 meals. The record for the most food packed in a day by a university in New England is held by UMaine, and was set in 2017, when the event saw over 107,500 meals packed. Last year, the event was able to distribute food to seven counties in the state.

This year the Meal Packout is not taking place in its traditional form, however the spirit of the UMaine commitment to community service is still alive and well. Dominique DiSpirito, a third-year biology student and the president of the UMaine Honors College SAB, spoke to the efforts they are undertaking in lieu of the Maine Day service event.

In light of the pandemic, we have opted to do a month-long Hunger Awareness Campaign for [the] Maine Day Meal Packout  instead of the large, in-person service event typically held on Maine Day. Myself and a group of 10 or so students and Honors College staff have been meeting since early December to plan a series of events that raise awareness about the misconceptions and stigma around hunger,” DiSpirito said.

 The first event in the series, held on April 1, was a panel discussion on food insecurity.

“We invited five panelists who are students working to fight food insecurity on campus, an alumni who is an advocate for food security programs, a researcher that has taken a look at college food insecurity and the operator of a local food pantry and advocate for student food security,” DiSpirito said. The Maine Day Meal Packout Instagram page is also releasing spotlights on food security advocates throughout the month of April.

DiSpirito, and fellow committee member Megan Driscoll, a fourth-year marine science student, are also taking the Live Below the Line Challenge to help raise awareness for those who experience food insecurity.

“The international Live Below the Line Challenge challenges people to live on $2 a day’s worth of food for 5 days. We are sharing the challenge and the participants’ experience taking the challenge to raise awareness about hunger and what food insecurity looks like,” DiSpirito explained.

The Honors College SAB is also participating in the campus-wide It’s Personal campaign.

The It’s Personal campaign, run by the Honors Student Ambassadors to benefit the Black Bear Exchange, is an ongoing campus-wide donation competition. Various student groups around campus are running charity drives to collect personal care items for donation, including feminine hygiene products, soap, toothpaste, deodorant and other similar items. The event kicked off in March, and will be running until Maine Day.

The It’s Personal Campaign has been great at building energy around meeting the needs of our community. This competition has raised awareness about how food insecurity affects access to necessities beyond just food, which is often overlooked,” DiSpirito said,  touching on the importance of the campaign, and expressing excitement about the amount of donations they had raised so far. “We are stoked that we have made it this far in the competition, bringing in around 300 personal care items. We certainly have our eyes on the prize!”

Some of the other campus organizations involved in the It’s Personal campaign are the Senior Skulls, the All Maine Women, Student Life, Black Bear Athletics and the Dungeons and Dragons Club. The organization with the most donations collected by the end of the challenge will win a special trophy. Students can support their favored team by donating to the club or organization, and all donations will go to the Black Bear Exchange.

Despite the challenges the pandemic has posed to traditional community service acts which usually occur on Maine Day, the Black Bear spirit of charity is alive and well thanks to the work of student organizations like the Honors College SAB. Visit the Maine Day Packout website for more information on how you can help fight food insecurity.

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