October 20, 2020
“When you are hungry, you can’t think about anything else.” - Juana Janie Mendez, 17
A child’s chance for a bright tomorrow starts with getting enough food to eat today. But this year, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, 18 million children - 1 in every 4 kids - may not know where they will get their next meal. Katie Brown has made it her mission to make a change.
Launching in 2019, Youth Full Maine programming is serving 4 different towns in York County. It is the first pilot replication of the Locker Project in Cumberland County and is led by a York County Board of Directors and Katie (Director). The goal of the organization is to provide nourishing food for children and their families in York County who are food-insecure. Most of Katie’s professional life has been focused on at-risk youth. She said, “I never really connected at-risk youth with hunger… and maybe that’s why I was able to launch without fear of risks.”
There have been a multitude of challenges this year. As YFM was ready to start recruiting volunteers, they had to limit that due to the pandemic. Another major challenge: fundraising. Katie said, “Our efforts this year aren't as diversified as we’d planned for them to be. We’ve been lucky to receive foundational support, but it’s tough to anticipate what will come when that funding isn’t as strong. I hope it doesn’t come before we can reintroduce branches of fundraising back.”
Now, Katie is focused on the future and anticipating how YFM might evolve when the pandemic passes. Unlike a traditional pantry, Youth Full Maine is mobile and they’re hopeful to partner more with local pantries and develop deeper partnerships. “We are often bringing our leftovers to pantries in York County and vice versa. Developing something that’s broader in York County than just school pantries and school free farmers markets focused on childhood hunger could develop into broader inter-pantry connection,” Katie said. “It’d be so fulfilling to be the entity that does that.”
When she got things going, her connection to at-risk youth grew leaps and bounds. She learned about the dire situation that is food insecurity in Maine, and started connecting it to so many subsequent problems such as behaviors, schools absences etc. “So much of these kids' bad starts are due to food insecurity,” said Katie. “With my background in non-profit, it wasn’t too difficult to get the program running once I started to put the pieces together because I was not passionately vested. Now… it’s been extremely difficult to let go of my mission. I catch myself thinking, ‘What will it be like when I step away from the program?’”
Katie loves collaborating and networking, and hopes that her successor will find it fairly easy to maintain the programming and bring nourishing food to children who need it. “My goal is to bring Youth Full Maine up to a point where it’s sustainable,” she said. “When the time comes for me to pass the torch, I want whoever that person is to inherit a fully operational and sustainable organization that has a strong board, fundraising, operations and strategy, and has the infrastructure it needs to operate smoothly with proper staffing in place.”
To learn more about Youth Full Maine, visit youthfullme.org or visit them on Facebook!