WESTBROOK — School nutrition departments across the state work hard to make sure children are receiving healthy meals while at school, but that work does not stop in the summertime.
Westbrook and SAD 6, Bonny Eagle, are among the many Maine districts that providing free meals this summer to children through the USDA Summer Lunch Program. In Gorham, which does not qualify for the federal program, the school department is extending its “backpack program” to provide meals to children there.
Through the USDA’s Summer Lunch Program, which started 50 years ago, between now and Aug. 17, children 18 and younger in Westbrook can get free lunch at the children’s room at Walker Memorial Library (800 Main St.), Westbrook Pointe Community Room (26 Prospect St.) beginning around 11 a.m., and My Place Teen Center (755 Main St.) beginning at noon Monday through Friday. The free lunch program will be offered at Walker Field/Steeple Square (2 Walker St.) beginning Monday, July 30.
“Lunch is provided for kids after they get our of school for the summer who may not have a lunch or not have enough food at home,” said Sally Hume, food services manager at Westbrook Middle School, who oversees Westbrook’s summer meal program. “It sort of supplements their lunches and helps parents who don’t have enough money to feed their family.”
Hume said she and her staff make 575 lunches a day, as well as breakfast for kids enrolled in Westbrook Community Services camps at the community center and extended school year programming at Canal School and Westbrook Middle School. Westbrook also teams up with RSU 14 (Windham and Raymond) to offer lunch at Dundee Park in Windham.
A summer food program is also available for students in the Bonny Eagle School District. Breakfast will be available throughout the week now through Friday, Aug. 10 at Buxton Center Elementary School, 915 Long Plains Road, from 8:15 to 9 a.m., at Edna Libby Elementary School, 45 Fort Hill Road in Standish, from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. and Jack Elementary School, 15 North East Road in Standish, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Lunch is available at Buxton Center school from 11 a.m. to noon and at the Libby and Jack schools from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Otter Pond YMCA, 71 Chadbourne Road in Standish, will offer breakfast from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. and lunch 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. through Friday, Aug. 24.
Breakfast (8:15 to 8:45 a.m.) and lunch (11:30 a.m. to noon) is also available Monday through Thursday between July 9 and Aug. 9 at Bonny Eagle Middle School on 92 Sokokis Trail in Buxton. Breakfast (8 to 8:45 a.m.) and lunch (11:15 a.m. to noon) will be served Monday to Thursday through Aug. 9 at Emery Jr. Memorial School at 908 Cape Road in Limington.
Dorothy Janotta, food service director for the Bonny Eagle School District, said many of the meals are handed out to participants in the district’s summer academy, extended school year or recreational programs, but any child in the district is welcome. Janotta said last year the Bonny Eagle meal sites served 27,000 meals.
“There are no eligibility requirements. We are what they consider an open site, so all kids 18 and under can come have a meal,” Janotta said. Maine Department of Education Child Nutrition Consultant Adriane Ackroyd, who oversees the summer meal program across the state, said open sites operate in places where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year.
“I, personally, am thankful that I have a staff that doesn’t mind working in a hot kitchen throughout the summer to make sure kids do have access to meals,” Janotta said.
As is the case during the school year, the summer meals, made possible through funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, must adhere to a series of nutritional standards and include fruits and vegetables regularly.
“We need to be serving a well-balanced lunch. We have to have a protein, a grain, fruit, vegetables and a milk,” Hume said.
Hume said although menus are drafted ahead of time, she is cognizant of what the youth may want to eat as well. Food allergies and religious beliefs also are taken into account.
“We want to make lunches kid-friendly. There is no point of making a lunch a kid is not going to eat. We have stopped serving some items because kids just wouldn’t eat them,” Hume said Monday during a break preparing lunches that featured a bologna sandwiches, carrot sticks, kiwi sections, chips and milk.
Ackroyd said the goal of the summer food program “is to make sure those kids who participate in the lunch or breakfast program can have nutritious meals in the summer so they can come back to school ready to learn,” Ackroyd said. “We also encourage the sites to have opportunities for enrichment and socialization, so (the kids) don’t just have a opportunity for a nutritious meal.”
In 2017, 438 summer meal sites across the state served more than 754,063, an increase of more than a thousand from summer 2016. Ackroyd said so far 123 sites have signed up, but expects a few more to start up throughout the summer.
“We are hoping for a growth in meal sites to make sure we are serving all of Maine’s kids,” she said.
Gorham School Superintendent Heather Perry said although her school district does not qualify because only 21 percent of students partake in the free and reduced lunch program, well under the 50 percent threshold, Gorham schools are helping to address food insecurity during the summer.
The school department, she said, is working with the Gorham Food Pantry to extend into summer the backpack program, in which every Friday students in the program are sent home with weekend food for themselves and their families. The program launched at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year with 20 individuals and grew to 60 by year’s end. The program is operated and funded by volunteers.
Perry said the goal is to make sure the connections made through the program during the school year “continued to be made in the summer time.”
Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews.
Kelly Bourgeois, a cook at Canal School, makes bologna and cheese sandwiches Monday as part of the school district’s summer meal program.
The Westbrook Nutrition Department prepares 575 free lunches a day, such as this one, to children all across the city.
Trina Townsend, left, and Abi Tucker put together children’s lunches at the Canal School cafeteria Monday. The lunches are handed out at several sites in Westbrook