Troy Howard Middle School Expands Food Pantry with Community Caring Cart

Like many school districts across Maine, RSU 71 provides a school food pantry program to ensure there are free food options for families to take home with them as an added service to those in need.

“The District has been feeding families in need since, well, forever,” said Carrie Robinson, Front Desk Secretary at Troy Howard Middle School (THMS) in Belfast.

While there is no data point in Maine that details just how many schools offer this type of service, it is abundantly clear that there are a wide range of efforts on all levels throughout Maine and often times they can be found at the local school.

“When our school buildings were closed last spring at the onset of the pandemic, our school nurses partnered with food services and transportation to send home weekly boxed meals and produce,” said Shannon Robbins, School Nurse at A Ames – Gladys Weymouth Elementary Schools in RSU 71. “In fact, we sent home over 22,000 pounds! Families shared with us how much it meant to have these necessities delivered to their homes when it felt too scary to shop in town.”

It’s worth noting that school food pantries and backpack programs are a volunteer effort at most schools and go above and beyond the complimentary school meals that students receive while learning at school and remotely. With the help of several USDA waivers during the pandemic, school nutrition programs have been allowed to be flexible and adaptive in the way school meals are served and most have been able to offer these services at no charge to families.

Suffice it to say, pantry and backpack programs are becoming an important addition to many school communities across Maine and at Troy Howard Middle School they have recently undergone an expansion to reach more families.

Although the district’s nurses, administrators, and guidance staff usually have a good idea of who needs help, they have found that it is still difficult to know if they’ve provided the service equitably.

“We really just never know who is in need,” explained Robyn Mailloux, THMS Nurse.

That is when they came up with the idea to offer the Community Caring Cart as a service to anyone who wants or needs something – they can just come pick it up. Instead of handing a backpack full of food and supplies to a specific student or families, now the cart is available in public areas at school that are easy for parents and students to just take what they need.

“Over the course of the year, I’ve been surprised at what has disappeared from the hallway shelf and who has been taking it,” said Mailloux. “You just don’t know what people’s stories are.”

In addition, there are bags available for people to donate items if they wish and the team is also working on some grab and go bags that are quick and easy to take.

“Anything taco related flies off the shelves, as does of course easy to make staples, mac and cheese and canned soups and fruits,” said Robinson. “Since we are at a middle school level many of our students have some basic cooking skills so they will grab things they can make for themselves. Any time we have fresh produce it goes well, the kids actually like fresh stuff!!!!”

“Lightweight, prepacked goods such as cereal, pasta or rice mixes, soups are very popular. We have also offered fresh produce from Maine farmers including potatoes, apples, carrots- families loved these,” adds Robbins.”

Knowing that food programs are a service provided in many community and schools throughout Maine, we asked the RSU 71 team if they have any advice for schools that are thinking about starting or expanding food pantry programs at their schools.

“I would remind any schools that are trying to do anything like this that you never really know who needs the help so get the word out every way you can,” offers Robinson.

“Partner with your community resources – we couldn’t do this without GBAM (Greater Belfast Area Ministerium Food Cupboard), GSFB (Good Shepard Food Bank), and our area boosters, such as Bell the Cat (a local restaurant) and individual donors,” said Robbins adding that when RSU 71 School Food Pantry began in 2019, they received a generous grant from the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation that has enabled them to expand their support during the pandemic.

The Maine Department of Education would like to take a moment to thank the dedicated team at RSU 71 as well as the countless school staff members, volunteers, and community partners across Maine working tirelessly to provide services to the families in their communities through food programs and other similar efforts, especially throughout the past year. Your dedication and selflessness does not go unnoticed by the Department or the grateful people that benefit from your work.

Information for this article was provided by RSU 71 as part of the Maine DOE Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

 

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine School Teams Advance in 2021 Farm to School Cook-off

Votes were cast and here are the results! Congratulations to South Portland (Kaler Kooks) and RSU 12 (Whitefield Wildcats) who will be advancing to the finals round of the 2021 Maine Farm to School Cook-off. The finals competition will be held on May 5th at the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom in Augusta.

The Maine Farm to School Cook-off is a statewide culinary competition for teams of school nutrition professionals and students to promote local foods in school meals. The 6th annual competition is organized by the Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition Team.

A big thank you to the four teams below who participated in the virtual event. For more information and to view each team’s videos please visit: https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/programs/localfoods/cookoffvoting.

Informational Materials For Classroom Teachers to Promote School Meal Programs

The Maine DOE Child Nutrition team has been working on creating resource materials to advocate for and promote participation in school meal programs. The project is aimed to support the DOE’s goal to combat childhood food insecurity by ensuing all Maine children have access to healthy school meals. The child nutrition team has released a new resource to be used by classroom teachers as a tool to support these goals as well.

The resource contains information on the benefits of school meal programs and specific ways teachers can promote these programs. It includes comprehensive information, tips, and nutrition talking points that teachers can incorporate in their classrooms. We hope this can serve as a tool to spread a positive message about nutrition programs, and end the lunchtime stigma many students face.

Here is the link to this resource: https://www.maine.gov/doe/sites/maine.gov.doe/files/inline-files/Teacher%20Meal%20Participation%20Promotion.pdf

​The link can be downloaded and printed, or distributed to teachers digitally.

This link can be distributed to classroom teachers to spread a positive message about our child nutrition programs and increase student participation! School meals are a vital learning tool for our students’ success, and we are looking forward to further spreading this message across our state’s classrooms and cafeterias!  Additional meal participation promotional materials is forthcoming and will be made available on the Child Nutrition website.

​Any questions can be directed to Caroline.bennett@maine.gov (AmeriCorps VISTA––Ending Hunger in Maine)

PRIORITY NOTICE: Still Time to Register for Mental Health Forum on April 1

There is still time to register for the Maine Department of Education’s FREE virtual forum taking place on Thursday, April 1st from 9:00am – 3:00pm.

Supporting Maine Educators: A Forum to Bolster Mental Health in Our Schools.
Date: 
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Time: 9:00 AM EST – 3:00 PM EST
Format: Zoom Webinar

The focus of this forum is to acknowledge the struggles of this past year, celebrate our successes and build resources to support mental health for our school communities. We hope to bring a greater awareness to the importance of mental health, destigmatize mental illness, increase mental health literacy for staff, administrators and community-based agencies, as well as provide practical supports to bolster the mental wellness of students and staff.

This forum will be a six hour event and consist of keynote speakers, with each followed by a related panel discussion comprised of experts from the field, State agencies and community partners, as well as staff and students from Maine schools. This will be a live event and each session will be recorded and available on the DOE website.  This is a FREE event!

For More Information and to Register

PRIORITY NOTICE: Maine Department of Education’s Guidance for Pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten Child Find Screening

Maine Department of Education Rule Chapter 101 includes federally mandated Child Find requirements, including timely screening procedures for incoming Pre-Kindergarten (PreK) and Kindergarten (K) students.  As Maine schools begin preparations for spring, summer or early fall screenings, appropriate precautions should be taken.  In addition to the supports that you would typically provide to families based on their needs (e.g. language, culture, transportation), the following screening guidance is provided for school administrative units (SAUs) and their Collaborative Planning Teams  to inform local procedures. 

Prior to In-person Screening
Maine schools are encouraged to use the time prior to scheduling in-person screening to build relationships with guardians of incoming students through an over-abundance of communication. 

The use of online registration for PreK and K students enables schools to identify the students who will be enrolling in programs in the fall of 2021.  As children are registering, schools could send welcome letters that include guardian surveys to begin the screening process.  Guardian surveys can be obtained or developed by: 

  • Accessing one that is already part of the school’s PreK/K screening tool (e.g. DIAL, ASQ, Brigance, etc.). 
  • Purchasing from available guardian screening tools (see Screening Compendium for examples). 
  • Use available standardized developmental screening tools, including the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3) or Survey of Well Being of Young Children (SWYC) 

Guardian surveys could be mailed or could utilize technology-based applications.  Phone calls to guardians are recommended in order to answer questions guardians may have, provide reminders about returning the surveys, and obtain information about students that would be helpful in planning for any additional supports necessary to assist the child during screening or in-person instruction. Schools may also consider hosting virtual open houses/meetings to help guardians learn about the school, the staff, the guardian survey, and the screening process. As needed, provide translation and interpreter services throughout the entire screening process. 

Once surveys are collected, schools could use available information to prioritize screenings so that students with greater risk can be scheduled for in-person screening first. Once complete, schools should encourage families to share screening results with their child’s primary care providerThe following guidelines should be considered: 

  • If students were served in a public PreK and guardians /teachers had no concerns, screening does not need to be repeated for Kindergarten entry, this applies for those who had vision and hearing screening completed in PreK as well. 
  • If students were served by Head Start, schools should connect with the sending Head Start program to gather information from their screenings.  It is likely those students will not need to be re-screened. 
  • If students have current IEPs, screening is not needed. Transition planning should be occurring, and students will most likely be re-evaluated in the fall and/or can complete other screening requirements (e.g. health screens) later. 
  • Schools may consider seeking guardian releases for screening information, including lead testing, developmental, hearing, and vision screenings that have been conducted by health care providers and/or other private services. 
  • Of the remaining students who need to be screened, use the information from the guardian survey to prioritize students, scheduling students at greater risk first. 

To assist in providing a smooth, safe, and effective in-person screening process, provide guardians with an explanation of how the screening process will work prior to arriving, utilizing short videos which introduce the process, people, and materials.  This will help them know what to expect and will assist them in explaining the experience to their children.  Also, provide guardians with any additional forms that could be completed ahead of time to reduce the time onsite during screening. 

In-Person Screening
When developing a plan for in-person screening, please consider the following guidance for developing a safe screening environment. 

  • Implement the six safety requirements for schools, and in addition, components of the SAU’s Emergency Operations Plan. 
  • Upon arrival, families must complete a symptoms checklist to ensure that the child and guardian have no signs or symptoms of COVID-19. 
  • Have hand sanitizer available at entry points.  The screener, child and guardian must use prior to beginning each session. 
  • Have supplies available to disinfect screening stations between appointments. Have custodial staff available to disinfect common areas when guardians and children may be traveling to reach screening stations. Follow appropriate guidelines for disinfecting facilities as found in the PK-12 and Adult Education Public Health Guidance. 
  • Work with and include your school nurse and school health advisor in the design of your screening process. Consider, if feasible, seeking support from community medical providers. 
  • Organize screenings to minimize exposures by having one screener completing all aspects of the screening with one student, rather than rotating children through stations with a different screener at each station.  If you want to accommodate more than one student at a time, have multiple screeners spread out, each in their own station, but do not have children rotating between stations.  Screening stations should be big enough to allow for the spacing needed to complete the screening while maintaining appropriate distance between stations.  Consider, in good weather, setting up screening stations outdoors. 
  • Ensure adherence to the gathering limits, established in Executive Order 35 FY 20/21. 
  • Limit screening to one guardian (when possible) per child with no other family members (such as siblings). 
  • Stagger the arrival times so that there is time between guardians and students entering the school and moving to their assigned screening locations. Make sure the entrance point for screening is clearly identified. 
  • Clearly mark the traffic flow for entering and exiting screening stations and for leaving the school.  Consider having a minimal number of additional staff on hand to help with traffic flow, as necessary. 
  • Guardians should remain outside of the screening area.  If children are uncomfortable about or unwilling to be separated from their guardian for the screening, it may be necessary to wait to complete the screening until after the school year begins and children have grown more comfortable. 
  • Screening of medically fragile students may need to be postponed until conditions improve, scheduled to avoid unnecessary exposure to others and should be done in consultation with their health care provider. 
  • If your school collaborates with a Head Start or CDS program, consider enlisting assistance from their trained screening staff. 

Other considerations: 

  • Some schools incorporate additional components in screening beyond what is required for Child Find.  Consider reducing screening to only what is essential, and/or receiving this information from the primary care provider. 
  • If screening during the summer proves to be too challenging, consider using the first couple days of the school year as a time to complete this process. 
  • Use of federal funds through the variety of COVID-19 relief packages to pay for additional expenses incurred by schools to complete screening (e.g. technology-based surveys, staff time in the summer to complete screening, etc.) might be allowable.  Please utilize the existing application approval procedures to inquire about this use. 

If you have additional questions, please reach out to Nicole Madore, Early Childhood Specialist, Nicole.madore@maine.gov or Emily Poland, School Nurse Consultant and Coordinated School Health Team Leader, Emily.Poland@maine.gov.