NORWAY — During high school, Maisey Griffin loved having her hands in the dirt and a field trip to Portland’s Preble Street Resource Center inspired her to continue to grow food and do something about hunger in western Maine.
Now the 20-year-old Oxford resident works at Healthy Oxford Hills in Norway through the AmeriCorps VISTA program as part of the Maine Hunger Initiative. A major portion of her job – where she is paid slightly less than the $7.50 minimum wage – centers around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
“My main focuses for this job … are trying to increase access and educate people on SNAP, and if they’re eligible, try to connect them to resources to get signed up and accepted,” Griffin said. “I go through the process with them.”
Part of her mission is to eliminate stigmas that go hand-in-hand with people who are food insecure and rely on SNAP and other programs to help put food on their tables and in their cupboards.
Griffin also works closely with local food pantries and school districts to drum up more participation in school meal programs. She also promotes community gardens, farmers’ markets and community meals.
“My job overall is to address hunger in our county and reduce hunger across Oxford County by working with community organizations,” she said. “I am here to help.”
It was during Griffin’s junior year at Telstar High School in Bethel that she grew her first garden and sold her goods at the farmers’ market held at DiCocoa’s Cafe. During her senior year, she took the field trip to Preble Street in Portland through Telstar’s Got Farms? after-school program.
“I got into growing food and then I went to Preble Street and saw the reality of how many people are struggling. In rural Maine, you don’t see it,” she said. “I’ve been learning more about that over the past two years about how severe it actually is in our state. We are the third most food insecure state in the nation.”
This statistic came from the Food Research and Action Center for the years 2012-14.
Even when Griffin is not on the clock at Healthy Oxford Hills, she’s working to address hunger locally, as she is a member of the Bethel Rotary Club and she volunteers at the Bethel food pantry. The latter hosts a monthly food distribution event.
“That’s 70 families that are struggling just in the Bethel area,” she said. “Just seeing the reality has driven me to feel compelled to do something about it. Food is like a survival need … and it’s something that I see a lot of potential for improvement in our world, farming-wise, nutrition-wise. So I want to help be part of the change. … We need food and I think everyone deserves healthy food.”
Once her one-year gig with AmeriCorps is up in November, Griffin will consider her possibilities. She took time to travel around the country after graduation, visiting family and friends out West and down South. She worked a winter at Sunday River and continues to work with the Got Farms? after-school program – the one she traveled to Portland for and that helped inspired her. She’s yet to attend to college and is still deciding her next move.
“I am interested in policy work because I am seeing a lot of our barriers are policies and it’s making it harder to connect people with the SNAP program,” Griffin said. “I am interested in studying mental health because I know I want to work with people, I want to help people, and no matter what I am doing, mental health is always a factor.”
When Griffin isn’t growing and connecting people with organic food, she’s busy shooting photos and making music. She enjoys playing the djembe African drum, along with shakers – rain sticks, tambourines and like.
“That is something I tend to do with my hands and it feels really good,” she said. “I just discovered recently how much I like to sing.” After this discovery, she took the stage with Singepole Mountain Band and sang some backup vocals during a gig at Tucker’s Music Pub on Main Street in Norway.
But regardless where her future takes her, Griffin wants to continue to work with people and grow organic food. The reason, she says, is simple.
“I think that everything on this Earth is connected. Everything from the people to the animals to the Earth deserve equal respect,” she said.