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Stories from the Road: School Partners Rally in Crisis to Meet Statewide Need

Maine has the highest rate of hunger in the northeast and, unfortunately, children and their families are among the vulnerable populations most affected by food insecurity. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect that 70,000 children will experience hunger in 2020 as a result of living in a food-insecure household.

Many of these children are supported by school nutrition programs, such as free breakfast, lunch, and afterschool snacks, which ensure they get the nutrition they need to thrive throughout the school day. Schools and hunger-fighting partners have done an exceptional job continuing their foodservice programs and innovating to meet the needs of their students during the pandemic. Still, these meals only go so far in supporting the household’s overall food security. This is where Good Shepherd Food Bank’s work steps in to support students and their families.

Through the Food Bank’s School Pantry Program, Good Shepherd Food Bank partners with over 210 public schools, early childhood centers, and college campuses to provide easy, consistent access to nutritious food for students and their families. Our school partners not only serve as food distribution sites in vulnerable areas, but also function as vital community resource hubs where families feel welcomed, supported, and safe.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools closed their doors in March, transforming the spring and summer months to an unwelcomed period of time because many Maine families with children lost reliable access to regular meals. Good Shepherd Food Bank, an essential service, continues to channel all of our efforts to be a strong resource to the state of Maine during these unprecedented times and supported our school partners’ efforts to maintain access to nutritious foods for the families in their communities.

This “Stories from the Road” piece showcases our school partners across the state and the tremendous work involved in pivoting their distribution models in the wake of COVID-19. The actions taken by our partners to safely distribute food ensured that Maine children and their families would have access to nutritious food throughout the summer months.

Farwell School Pantry, Lewiston, Maine
Anna Louise, ELL Teacher

“We have been able to serve most of our 30 families this summer — which has been an incredible service to them. These families appreciate the food pantry food throughout the school year, and they appreciate it even more now during this COVID pandemic. Thanks to the efforts of Good Shepherd Food Bank, we have been able to provide access to healthy food for families to take home, in addition to breakfasts provided by the school district. The pre-packaged COVID-19 relief boxes were awesome, and the fresh produce was beyond measure. During the spring, if our requested number of “COVID boxes” couldn’t be fulfilled, Good Shepherd Food Bank always supplemented our order with extra produce and dry goods. With that extra food for which we were so thankful, we were always able to support our families with a large selection of produce and dry goods. We have never even offered a summertime food pantry service to Farwell families before. This year, more than ever, our families needed extra support, and we were thrilled to offer them food with no strings attached. Our families are thankful; as are we volunteers. We greatly appreciate the amazing efforts of Good Shepherd Food Bank.”

“I just want to say how much the food program has helped us during this pandemic and through the summer so far. We are very grateful to have had help with extra food for our 4 children. The boxes every month have extremely been a big help. Thank you for all that you do and we appreciate every one of you!” ❤ – Sincerely, Christal Smith & Family

Milbridge Elementary School Pantry, Milbridge, Maine
Laura Thomas, ESL Teacher

“Previously, we had a school-based pantry where kids could take food home every day, and parents could pick up food if they needed to. When COVID-19 shut our school down, we move the entire pantry into our gymnasium so we could accommodate additional resources for families. The gym was also where families could do pick up and drop off schoolwork.  Being in the gym allowed families to access the pantry any time they were at school. From there, we operated a system of deliveries and some drive-through pick-ups. We didn’t have to make many deliveries before COVID, just one or two here and there for families that weren’t able to come to school.  We are now doing deliveries for 30 or 40 families every week.  When the school closed down on Friday, June 12, for the year, families were so appreciative of the support that had been offered but also concerned about how to move forward if the school pantry closed.  We decided to partner with the Maine Seacoast Mission to continue to support families throughout the summer.  We continue to deliver boxes every week from our school pantry.  We also have continued with the Milk to My Plate program, which allows us to deliver fresh milk with our food boxes weekly.  I’m so happy that we can support our school community through the school pantry and throughout the summer.”

Sanford Backpack Program, Sanford, Maine
Lori Williams, Sanford Backpack Program

“We seamlessly, but not without lots of hard work, went from regular school pantry operations to mobile emergency food relief for our entire community. We received donations of perishable foods from local restaurants and monetary donations from local businesses and individuals as well. Volunteers were coming to us wanting to reach out despite the masks, gloves, and fear; they saw the need and were there to help. Our program has never connected with so many families and moved this amount of food in the time we have known as “Quarantine/COVID-19”. We deliver about 15 boxes each week to families who can’t make it to us and distribute about 160-180 boxes of food, including the prepacked boxes and fresh produce combined. We have added in personal care items, donated frozen pizza dough, donated Wicked Whoopie Pies, and more. We have had two local businesses team up to give away (suggested $10.00 donation) pizza dinners and bowling passes for when they can re-open our beloved Bowl Rama, and then give us all the money raised. The whole community and local businesses have been amazingly supportive, and we continue to serve them the best we can.”

Millions of people across the country are facing unemployment and a summer they never expected. Nobody should have to worry about where their next meal will come from, especially during these difficult times. Join us in supporting year-round access to healthy food for families and children this summer and throughout the upcoming school year.

To learn more about our youth and family initiatives and how you can help, go here.