LEWISTON, Maine — Misty Coolidge is a mom, wife, small business owner, the newly crowned 'Mrs. Worldwide' and now, she's the Good Shepherd Food Bank's first food ambassador.
Fighting back against food insecurity in Maine is something Coolidge has been doing since she was a student at Husson University in Bangor, 25 years ago. She said her passion for filling bellies and cupboards stems from her own childhood in Skowhegan.
"Growing up, my mom was a single mom with three of us. I was the oldest. She worked several jobs to put food on the table, she did what she could," Coolidge said. "You know, making homemade baked beans and brown bread and those things that you just don't see any more of, that was the household I grew up in. There weren't seconds at dinners most times because that food needed to go to another night's meal. It was planned out."
As the first ambassador to Good Shepherd, Coolidge's mission is to volunteer and educate as many people as possible about food insecurity and the ways they can help. However, as the newly crowned 'Mrs. Worldwide', Coolidge is taking that message and spreading it around the globe.
She was crowned 'Mrs. USA' in 2021 and spent the last six months traveling around the country and visiting various food pantries.
"My vision was to travel to all 50 states," Coolidge said. "I was able to get to 20 in six months. It's a lot. It was a lot of traveling a lot of time away."
Time away but time well spent. Coolidge said she always comes back with perspective. Especially after visiting New York City's City Harvest Food Pantry. She recalled a moment when she met a little boy who had travelled all the way to the city's food pantry alone.
"He was dragging that bag of produce back home. He couldn't even lift it, it was bigger than he could even carry and I literally had tears streaming down my face when he walked away because it was too much for me to comprehend." Coolidge said.
Those interactions are not uncommon, Coolidge said. Food insecurity and hunger doesn't discriminate. It affects people of all ages.
Coolidge added volunteering at the various food banks allowed her to fill some of that need and, bring back ideas to Good Shepherd. One of those ideas came from the Philabundance Food Pantry in Philadelphia. They are called 'Notes of Sunshine'. Each handmade card is created by students in the area and then added to the food boxes for senior citizens in the community.
"Little ones come in and create these little notes of sunshine, positive notes like 'have a wonderful day', 'you are so beautiful', 'you are fantastic'," Coolidge said. "I passed this notes of sunshine idea back to my school district. I made my kids make little notes at home, they were so excited about it, and then I came into the school and presented the program and they're doing it."
Now, kindergarteners, first and second graders are all making notes of sunshine for 'senior boxes' that are going out to Gray right here in our community, just one little change." Coolidge added.
However, that's not all she's doing.
Coolidge also partnered with a NU Brewery in New Gloucester to create a blueberry wheat ale called Feed ME, or Feed Maine. One dollar from every purchase goes back to Good Shepherd.
She's also about to release a children's book called 'We all Stir the Pot To End Hunger'. The book teaches children about food insecurity by following the story of a zucchini and will even have simple, inexpensive recipe ideas in the back of the book.
To see a sneak peek of the cover, check out the video above.