With a $ 100,000 grant from Hannaford Supermarkets, Full Plates Full Potential purchased new vans for three school districts in 2021 to help deliver summer meals.
LEWISTON, Maine – Two problems that often go hand in hand are hunger and lack of transportation, and Maine is not immune to these challenges. The pandemic brought to light childhood hunger after schools closed last year and left some children temporarily wondering where their next meal would be coming from. Getting to school and summer meals can be difficult for some students, which is why an initiative has made a difference in recent months.
When in Lewiston you might see a white van with pictures of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on the side. Lewiston Public Schools received this new van for free this spring through Full Plates Full Potential, thanks to a $ 100,000 grant from Hannaford Supermarkets. This money also helped supply delivery trucks to two other school districts: RSU 12, which covers the Sheepscot Valley area, and MSAD 58 in the western mountains.
“It’s cool driving around. People can see fruits and vegetables,” said Alisa Roman, the director of nutrition and transportation for Lewiston Public Schools, NEWS CENTER Maine. “Some of my administrators – they wave anyway because they know it’s ours, so it was a pride for us too.”
Earlier this year, three school districts received new vans free of charge to deliver summer meals to students with transportation problems. I visited Lewiston Public Schools to see how the team served nearly 50,000 meals. This story on @newscentermaine at 6:30 am #wakeMEup pic.twitter.com/vTbxzmufw3
– Chloe Teboe (@ChloeTeboe) August 19, 2021
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Roman said she and her team have already delivered more than 46,000 meals to 16 different locations with the School Meal Mobile this summer, and she expects to hit the 50,000 mark this week. She said the van played a huge role in helping the school district make sure every child who needs food is looked after.
“Some of these kids – they can’t reach us, so if we can reach them we’ll solve this problem,” said Roman, noting that her team has been serving meals for 520 days. She said there are about 5,500 students in the Lewiston School District – and her team typically feeds about 4,500 of them every day, although that number declines slightly over the summer as some students are absent.
“I think the need for Lewiston is higher – the highest for the state of Maine,” said Rhonda Hart, nutrition manager at Lewiston High School, of food insecurity in Maine’s second largest city. “I think there are a lot of kids in the area who need it.”
For them, knowing that work has a direct impact on people is the reason for this.
“It’s gratifying that we join in every day and change the lives of children – who might not get food if we weren’t here,” said Hart.
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Before the school lunch van existed, the school district had to rent a delivery van, so this initiative has helped ease the financial burden. Kitchen Clerk Peter Sharpley is a clerk who delivers a lot of meals and works to get it done every weekday morning during the summer.
“It keeps us going at work here because we want to feed the children and make them happy, make them strong,” Sharpley noted.
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The school lunch mobile should help the three school districts to find some kind of long-term solution to fight hunger. Justin Strasburger, the executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, says the vans obviously don’t have an “infinite” lifespan, but they are designed to serve their communities for years. Strasburger says he estimates these vans helped feed 1,200 more students each day this summer.
“Hunger is pretty much the basic need we have, and when you talk about children, children are left to the decisions of adults,” said Strasburger. “No child should go hungry because adults can’t find a way to pull us together.”
“We don’t just want to put a band-aid on,” said Sherri Stevens, Hannaford Supermarkets’ community relations manager, about food insecurity. “We want to invest in a way that really has a meaningful and lasting effect.”
That’s something Sharpley has to do every day.
“They always say we’re a hero, but I think we’re only here to do our jobs,” said Sharpley. “It helps and makes us feel good that the children are being fed even when they are not in school.”
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The Lewiston Summer Meal Program is open to all students aged 18 and under and 21 and under if they have a handicap. The program will end soon as the school year is about to start, but Roman says her team still plans to use the School Meal Mobile.