As Maine’s food insecurity continues to rise, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and Full Plates Full Potential are pleased to announce a new student-led collaboration aimed at raising awareness of student hunger and ensuring that every child is in Maine has access to school meals. Prior to the pandemic, more than 43 percent of all public school students in the state relied on school meals to fight hunger.
“Food insecurity among Maine students has increased significantly since the pandemic began. More than 100,000 Maine children are not getting enough food at home, ”said Justin Strasburger, executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, an association of community leaders and advocates working to end hunger among Maine children. “That’s a huge number, and too many of them either don’t know what food programs are offered in their schools or have no access to them for one reason or another. By working with JMG, we hope to reach these students and remove the barriers that keep them from participating in these meal programs. “
JMG is the only statewide private nonprofit in Maine providing ongoing support to students from 6th grade through post-secondary education. JMG works with over 100 schools from Sanford in the south to Fort Kent in the north, making it the ideal partner to address food insecurity in our schools. The initiative will start as a pilot project in 10 schools this fall, with JMG students playing a leading role.
“Students and their JMG specialists will be responsible for identifying issues that are contributing to food insecurity in their individual schools and working on solutions,” said Craig Larrabee, President and CEO of JMG. “Whether this means raising awareness of the meal programs or looking at potential stigmatization around school meals, it is important that we address these issues.”
Under the leadership of Senate President Troy Jackson, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, and Deputy Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, the Maine Legislature recently passed what is widely considered to be the most significant law in its history to tackle child starvation in Maine. The School Meals for All Act ensures that all Maine students have free access to school meals. While this is a monumental step towards food justice for children, cost is just one barrier that can prevent children from getting access to the meals they need to grow strong and healthy. Much remains to be done, including reducing stigma on school meals – a focus of the JMG-FPFP collaboration.
“As I’ve said many times over the past few weeks, no child should go hungry at school or worry about where their next meal will come from. With this law, we’re taking a huge step forward in ending child hunger in Maine, ”said Jackson. “While I’m proud to sponsor this bill, it has been a team effort that would not have been possible without the strong advocacy and support of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, Full Plates Full Potential, and so many others. I am so grateful to the JMG students for testifying in support of the bill at the public hearing, and I am confident that their new partnership with Full Plates Full Potential will build on the strength of this law and ensure that our students receive the Support they deserve. “
Fecteau co-sponsored the legislation. “Growing up with food insecurity, I understand the stress children and their families experience when they do not have access to nutritious food. Maine leads the country in removing barriers to school lunch, reducing stigma, and ensuring success for all students. The fact that Maine’s network of JMG students will contribute to this endeavor means so much. “
Pouliot helped pass the law. “We all know that when you’re hungry or haven’t eaten, it’s hard to concentrate or get things done,” said Pouliot. “With this initiative, children will eat, schools will not have to raise funds, students and families will not have to worry about spending money on meals at school, and all students will have equal access to meals and proper nutrition to ensure they get it are ready to learn. At the same time, JMG is one of the most effective educational organizations in Maine, so your participation in this partnership really ensures that it is successful. “
Fundamental to this partnership is critical to the Maine business community, including Bank of America and Central Maine Power. “Central Maine Power has supported graduate jobs in Maine for years through donations and volunteering, and we recently partnered with Full Plates Full Potential,” said Scott Mahoney, interim president of CMP. “CMP is excited to continue to support these organizations by using shareholder funds to invest in this student-led project that will empower student voices in efforts to end student hunger in Maine.”
School districts involved in the pilot include Sanford, Windham, Lisbon, RSU 3, RSU 9, Skowhegan, Bangor, Brewer, Machias and Calais.
JMG is a statewide, private, not-for-profit organization that works with students who encounter educational barriers. JMG provides more than 10,000 students annually with the skills and experience they need to graduate from high school, earn a post-secondary degree, and pursue meaningful careers. JMG graduates become engaged members of their communities, productive adults in the workforce, and contribute to Maine’s economy. Learn more at jmg.org.
Full Plates Full Potential is committed to ending food insecurity for children in Maine by maximizing participation in USDA-sponsored child nutrition programs. Across the state, nearly 100,000 children rely on these meals every day. Full Plates provides technical and financial assistance to schools and community organizations to feed children now, while advocating the systemic change needed to ensure that all children in Maine have consistent access to nutritious meals. Visit fullplates.org for more information.