In a time of crisis, student research aims to improve food outreach efforts

In an effort to investigate best practices for tackling food insecurity in Washington County, students in the psychology and community studies program at the University of Maine at Machias are surveying area residents about food-related volunteer work.

The surveys are part of a course on research methods and design in which students develop a project on an issue impacting the community. UMM professor Lois-Ann Kuntz says the project comes at a crucial time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated ongoing problems with food security in Washington County.

In one survey, residents who have volunteered in the past are invited to anonymously evaluate their experiences. Another survey for residents aims to gauge interest in donating supplies, land and/or labor to a possible community garden project in Machias. 

Survey participants also have the option to add their contact information to a list of available volunteers for local food pantries and delivery networks.

Results from the surveys, which are being conducted virtually through social media and other online community networks, will be shared with Regina Grabrovac, a food programs manager for Healthy Acadia. Through its Healthy Food for All project, the nonprofit organization coordinates a number of community nutrition initiatives throughout Washington County.

“There’s currently a desperate need for volunteers to deliver and provide meals for elderly folks, folks with compromised immune systems, and other food pantry recipients,” says Kuntz. “We hope our research will help by connecting willing volunteers with Healthy Acadia and providing data about how to improve the volunteer experience.”