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Updated: August 17, 2023

Handiwork of Maine prison inmates will help raise funds for midcoast assistance program

bowls on shelves Courtesy / AIO Food & Energy Assistance Wooden bowls made by Maine State Correctional Facility inmates and decorated by Maine artists will be auctioned to raise funds for a midcoast food and energy assistance program. These are bowls from last year’s exhibit.

Inmates and artists have teamed up to raise money for a Rockland nonprofit that provides food assistance and other help to individuals and families in need.

Residents of the Maine State Correctional Facility in Warren, through the prison's industries program, have made and donated a collection of wooden bowls that were then decorated by Maine artists. Each artist interpreted the theme of sharing food and fighting food insecurity. 

The collection will be featured in the second annual ArtFeeds exhibition and online silent auction, which will benefit AIO Food & Energy Assistance in Rockland. The exhibition and online auction will be hosted by Sept. 10-16 at Page Gallery in Camden. A reception will be held Sept. 16, 4-6 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

AIO’s programs include food, energy, weekend meals and diaper assistance.

“ArtFeeds represents an entire summer of artists, volunteers, partnering organizations and supporters working together to demonstrate how a community can address hunger,” said AIO Executive Director Joe Ryan. “For the winning bidders, an ArtFeeds bowl will be a family treasure for generations to come, and the benefit to hundreds of local families will be immediate.”  

The gallery’s owner, Colin Page, said the partnership with AIO and the prison help raise awareness about food and energy insecurity.

bowl painted with pictures of fruit
Courtesy / AIO Food & Energy Assistance
Tenants Harbor artist Sarah Lee painted this bowl for this year’s ArtFeeds exhibit.

“Artists jump at the chance to work on new pieces for this auction as we all know how important AIO is to our community,” Page said. 

AIO, short for Area Interfaith Outreach, was established in 1990 by area congregations as a place for people in need to obtain food or energy assistance within Knox County. Today, volunteers collectively give an average of 15,000 hours each year to help run programs. 

As a food pantry, AIO now serves more than 4,000 households a year, with more than 10,000 individual visits to the food pantry. Visits to the food pantry market increased by nearly 60% over the past year. A Weekend Meals Program sends food home to almost 500 families each week. 

In fiscal year 2021-22, AIO provided over 24,000 diapers to families and nearly 700 assistance vouchers of $300 each.

person at work table
Courtesy / AIO Food & Energy Assistance
Midcoast artist Eric Hopkins works to finish up a bowl for this year’s AIO ArtFeeds exhibit.

According to the Maine Department of Education, more than 50% of the children in the Rockland area live near the poverty line.  One child in four qualifies for free school lunches, based on family incomes at or just above the poverty line.  

The first ArtFeeds was in 2022 and featured 28 local artists who created their own bowl or worked with a wooden bowl carved and donated by residents of the Maine State Correctional Facility’s woodworking program. Last year’s silent auction raised nearly $20,000 to benefit AIO’s programs. 

Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said the partnership was personal.

“I grew up food insecure, I grew up with that shame and fear,” Liberty said in a statement on the ArtFeeds website. “No one should have to go through that.”

Liberty said that innovative programs and collaborative efforts, like ArtFeeds, ensure food is accessible to all, reduces stigma, and allows incarcerated artists and farmers a pathway to personal and community redemption. 

“We share in AIO’s vision to have a hunger-free community,” he said.

The Maine Department of Corrections operates industries programs in five of its adult facilities. The goal is to provide quality products to the public and other agencies while keeping as many residents as busy as possible, according to the agency’s website.

With average program revenues exceeding $1.5 million annually, the industries program is primarily self-funded, producing quality products while providing residents the opportunity to learn marketable job skills, work ethics and responsibility.

For more information about the ArtFeeds exhibition and AIO, click here.

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