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)

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Child Nutrition Kicks off Virtual Farm to School Cook-off

The Maine Department of Education is following in the footsteps of many schools and going with a hybrid model for this year’s 2021 Farm to School Cook Off.

Celebrating its 6th annual competition, 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 Department of Education, Child Nutrition team.

On March 22nd the Maine Department of Education (DOE) Child Nutrition team is kicking off the virtual competition. Four teams are participating in the competition this year including, RSU 12, RSU 14, RSU 54 and South Portland. Voting will take place starting today, March 22nd through April 2nd for school staff, family and friends to vote for their favorite cook-off team!

Each team was tasked to create a breakfast and lunch video, while following recipe guidelines of the competition. This criteria includes producing meals that meet the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) meal pattern and include at least three local ingredients and one USDA food. Within the videos, teams were asked to provide details on local ingredients, USDA foods that were used, techniques used, feasibility, and anything else the team would like to share.

This virtual cook-off is the first step on each team’s journey to becoming the “2021 Farm to School Cook-off Champion”. The top two finalists from the virtual competition will advance to the Farm to School Cook-off Finals Competition on May 5, 2021 in the Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom in Augusta, ME! Please note all necessary precautions will be taken, including face coverings and social distancing of teams in the culinary classroom. 

To vote for your favorite cook-off team please visit: https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/programs/localfoods/cookoffvoting

Finalists will be announced on April 5, 2021.
For more information on Maine’s Farm and Sea to School program, visit https://www.maine.gov/doe/farmtoschool

MEDIA RELEASE: USDA Extends Flexibilities to Provide FREE Meals to Children Through Summer Months

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a continuation of needed flexibilities for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) through Summer 2021.

“We are so grateful for the USDA waiver extensions through this incredibly difficult time,” said Walter Beesley, Maine Department of Education’s Director of Child Nutrition. “The newest extension will allow Maine schools to continue to provide complimentary emergency meals in creative ways at school, remotely, and on weekends to children of all ages through the summer months.”

In the USDA announcement, they express the following:

As we complete a full year of Child Nutrition Program operations during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we want to acknowledge the creativity, dedication, and tireless efforts of program operators and administrators at all levels to ensure access to healthy meals during what has been, for many of us, one of the most challenging years of our lifetimes. Over the past year, the Child Nutrition Program community has overcome a myriad of obstacles and has continued to provide daily meals for millions of our nation’s children and vulnerable adults. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) extends a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has dedicated time and energy in service to their communities through the Child Nutrition Programs over this past year.

In response to the needs of program operators and State administrators, FNS has released a series of waivers to maximize flexibility and limit exposure to COVID-19, while maintaining accountability. The waivers are currently scheduled to expire on June 30, 2021, the statutory end of the school year. These flexibilities will remain necessary to operate our programs this summer given the ongoing public health and economic crisis. Understanding that program operators are now planning how to best deploy child nutrition programs during the upcoming summer months, FNS is issuing the following updated waivers specifically for summer meal program operations in 2021. Please note that the current waivers are in effect through June 30, 2021 and that the waivers listed below are effective beginning July 1, 2021:

  • #74 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibilities for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #75 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-Congregate Feeding for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #76 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #77 Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #78 Nationwide Waiver of Meal Service Time Restrictions for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #79 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Offer Versus Serve Flexibilities in the Summer Food Service Program for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #80 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #81 Nationwide Waiver to Waive First Week Site Visits in the Summer Food Service Program for Summer 2021 Operations
“Statewide we have seen a down-tick in families accepting the meals that are available at no cost to them. This has prompted schools to adapt their menus, delivery options, and advertising methods to encourage families to take advantage of this valuable service, especially during these tough times,” added Beesley. “We are hopeful that now that we know the flexibilities and funding will continue through the summer, more families will take advantage of the really great, complimentary food options from school.”

Maine Department of Education Child Nutrition staff stand ready to support Maine Child Nutrition Providers in their continued efforts to supply safe, nutritious meals to Maine’s children and adolescents through Summer 2021.

Maine DOE staff are available to answer questions and provide important training and technical assistance to the field. For questions and information please contact Adriane Ackroyd at Adriane.ackroyd@maine.gov / 207-592-1722.