Summer meals programs expand in Maine

Child nutrition programs at the Maine Department of Education have been working hard to close the “hunger gap” experienced over the summer months through the USDA’s Summer Food Rocks food distribution program. Several new summer programs kicked off in June, reaching a total of 400 meal sites across the state supervised by 120 sponsors.

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For the second year in a row Maine ranked in the top ten states for serving meals in the summertime. According to Food Research & Action Center’s recently released Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation report, Maine served close to 25 percent of the income eligible students receiving meals during the 2015 school year. USDA’s goal is to reach 40 of every 100 students who participate in the school lunch program.

Families can visit fns.usda.gov to find summer meals in their community. The same information can be found by calling 211.

More than 200 people joined the kick-off with a barbeque in Westbrook, while AOS 92 held a kick-off event at Winslow Elementary School serving 230 children. The district’s food service staff and principal dressed in their finest fruit and veggie costumes.

Bangor also saw a large crowd. Mike Myatt, executive director of the Bangor Housing Authority, told the participants that statistics show lower-income children fall behind in their reading over the summer months. Myatt said, “Providing nourishing meals and having enrichment activities available to the children at meals sites helps these students with their skills as they enter school in September.” This year, the Bangor-Brewer area will host six meal sites, which includes a church and a park.

Candice Stoiber of the USDA’s Special Nutrition Programs Division was in Bangor for the kick-off. She told the participants that 22 million children receive a meal during the school year, but only four million have taken part in the summer meals program across the nation.

“We are on a mission to promote summer meals so kids can have nourishment and activities to be stronger to return to school,” Stoiber said. “Last year, 700,000 summer meals were served in Maine, raking the State in the top ten for serving summer meals, so accolades to the Maine Department of Education for leading the way.”

Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition Specialist Gail Lombardi joined the kick-off. “When community partners come together, the kids win with great meals that replace meals served during the school year. Research shows that children participating in the summer meals program have a much smaller summer slide or loss of learning. They come back to school healthy and ready to learn,” she said.

The Good Shepherd Food Bank has created two new outreach locations. Child Hunger Programs Manager Shannon Coffin said, “We learn about the nutrition outreach opportunities from Maine DOE, and we hope to feed 200 kids a day where the school lunches they depend on through the school year are not available.”

For more information on summer meals in Maine, click here.

You can read various news coverage regarding summer meal sites here: