2013-06-07 / Front Page

Summer lunch program launched

Food pantries combine forces to fight hunger
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A group of concerned residents in Regional School Unit 21 have banded together for the common good.

Children in the district will have the option of receiving a free lunch two days a week during July and August through the newly implemented Summer Free Lunch Program.

It was asked that parents sign their children up by May 15, but, due to very sparse feedback, registration has since been extended to June 15.

Beth Jones, co-chairman for Church Community Outreach Services, which operates the Kennebunk Community Food Pantry, is helping to organize the food needed and the logistics of the program.

“Eva Barnfeather came to me and said, ‘I want to do this and can you help me?’ So I said sure. Together we’ve been working on it,” Jones said. Barnfeather is a volunteer for the community food pantry.

The Kennebunk Community Food Pantry and the Portland-based Good Shepherd Food Bank, along with several volunteers, are working together to fund and prepare the meals.

“The food pantry’s board of directors have agreed to financially support this,” Jones said.

Similar to what Leo Menard of the BackPack Food Program is doing—providing students in Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, and the Saco-Biddeford area with free lunches on the weekends during the school year—the efforts made by concerned residents in southern Maine are in response to a pervasive concern: hungry kids.

“Twenty-five percent of the kids in Maine don’t have enough to eat,” said Menard, who offers meals to students on weekends through the BackPack Food program. “A lot of people give to Third World countries, but really there are a lot of people under our noses that need our help. It’s time we start giving back to our own community,” Menard said.

Jones echoed Menard’s sentiment.

“That statistic is correct — 25 percent of the kids in Maine are hungry. What people don’t realize is even in our school district, 25 percent of our kids are hungry. The statistic matches the state’s,” Jones said.

She said this surprises a lot of people, as Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are presumed to be predominantly affluent.

Notifying the public about the summer free lunch program has been harder than expected.

“It is a little hard to get the word out. I think we were too optimistic about asking people to sign up by May 15; it was unrealistic — mostly the people we’re working with can’t afford to think that far ahead,” Jones said. “We extended it to June 15, two weeks before we want to start. I have been in touch with the director of food and nutrition services for RSU 21— she is sending out a notification to the parents that we would be targeting.

“Our biggest problem is getting the word out through the school system—they have to protect people’s privacy but we have to reach people somehow.”

Kennebunkport’s Public Health Nurse and General Assistance Director, Judy Barrett, reported that no families in town have registered yet.

“It is surprising that not even one family has registered. We are extremely fortunate to have this service available,” Barrett said.

Wendy Lank, general assistance administrator for Arundel, also reported that no families in Arundel have signed up for the program yet.

“The program is actually open to any family in the district with young kids not even in school yet,” Lank said. In other words, any child in the district, even those too young to be enrolled in schools, qualify for registration.

For students, the summer lunches are limited to families who receive subsidized lunches through a school during the school year.

“This year we’re only offering the program to students through eighth grade. Next year we will possibly offer it to high-schoolers,” Jones said.

A common issue with charities like the Summer Food Program is that of anonymity — oftentimes people who could benefit from the service are uncomfortable revealing their identity, as one has to relinquish their pride to ask for help.

“We try resolving this issue by working everything through the general assistance program through the towns; it keeps people anonymous,” Jones said. “We’re kind of doing this same thing — if people want to sign up they have to contact the GA officer for their town.

“They have to decide if they want to get a number to remain anonymous and pick up the lunch, or if they want to have it delivered, in which case they have to give their name and address. We teach all of our volunteers to respect the privacy of the people we serve.”

Free lunches will be offered every Tuesday and Thursday beginning Tuesday, July 2 through the end of August, with the exception of Thursday, July 4.

“It’s a pilot program,” Jones said. “this whole thing is an experiment — once we figure out what doesn’t work it will be easier to figure out what does work.

“We’re in that process right now — even if we just have one child we’re going to do it. I suspect that there will be more. Maybe we’ll only have 10 kids, but for those 10 it’ll make a difference in their summer.”

For more information on how to donate and how to register, contact Beth Jones at 967-3613, Kennebunk representative Karen Winton at 985-2102, ext. 1342, Kennebunkport representative Judy Barrett at 967-4401, or Arundel representative Wendy Lank at 985-4201.

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