How Maine Ensures Access to Healthy Food

July 22, 2020

Maine is the nation’s most rural state, and like most communities there Bowdoinham is small (population: 3,000) with many older residents (median age 43.7). Bowdoin College is located just south in Brunswick.  Bowdoinham joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2015 and named its local initiative Age-Friendly Bowdoinham.  

The Challenge 

“During the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, the main concern in Bowdoinham was access to food and medication,” reports Patricia Oh, Age-Friendly Community Coordinator for AARP Maine. People focused on identifying residents who have unmet needs but don’t typically raise their hands to ask for help.” 

The Response 

An already existing program enlisting volunteer drivers to help older residents get around Rides in Neighbors Carswas expanded to include home deliveries.  Local volunteers now pick-up and drop-off groceries and prescriptions to older residents and people with compromised immune systems.  This all happens without any in-person contact. 

To help households struggling with food insecurity, volunteers work with Bowdoinham’s food pantry to make deliveries of fresh produce and other groceries. Although we know there are still residents whose needs are not being met,” Oh explains.   

A Box of Groceries
Fresh foods are boxed for delivery to homebound residents of Bowdoinham, Maine

The Rides in Neighbors Cars program also brings fresh food from local farmers to people of all ages who cannot leave their homes. Butter, milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, locally milled flour, just-baked sourdough bread and a variety of vegetables are purchased from un-staffed roadside stands and distributed at people’s doors.    

These services grew out of the Age-Friendly Team’s work in telephoning all older residents of Bowdoinham (and the nearby communities of Bowdoin and Richmond) to make sure people had what they needed. This was carried out with the help of a local legislator and other volunteers, and everyone contacted was encouraged to request regular wellness check-in calls if they wanted.  

The team has also launched entertaining efforts to increase social connectedness in the community.  Volunteers are encouraging people throughout town to ring bells, honk horns and generally remind everyone that they are not alone in this at the pre-arranged time each evening. They also facilitate two stay-at-home book clubs sponsored by the public library so people can socialize and share how they’re doing. 

The Results, Thus Far 

“Age-Friendly Bowdoinham has strengthened existing partnerships and developed new ones to help meet the needs of people of all ages in the community,” Oh says. Other keys to their success in helping people is a strong sense of coordination and intergenerational solidarity. “Their solutions have been community-based with all of the organizations in the community working together. 

The Rides in Neighbors Cars program provides access to food, medication and medical appointments for 32 residents who have a compromised immune system and/or can no longer drive. Half of older Bowdoinham residents have received a check-in call to make sure they have what they need. Seventeen residents are receiving regular social calls from volunteers. 

Other impacts of Age-Friendly Bowdoinham may not be as easily quantified but are still very important to the community. The initiative’s support of local farm stands has been impressive and successfulboth in providing fresh food for residents and growing a strong consumer base for local farmers. An on-line program encouraging everyone to participate in the 2020 Census sparked a wonderful round of storytelling by older residents on the community Facebook page. 

Response Partners 

Age-Friendly Bowdoinham 

Rides in Neighbors Cars 

Bowdoinham Food Pantry 

Bowdoinham Friends and Family Facebook page 

Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson)