WATERVILLE — Being at George J. Mitchell School during the early days of summer vacation was out of the ordinary for soon-to-be third graders Gabbie St. Peter and Alice Willette.

But there’s very little that’s ordinary about these two friends, who, in the past year, have helped raise more than $40,000 for their school’s food pantry, met U.S. Sen. George Mitchell when he attended an assembly in their honor and even appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show.

Several local officials, including Waterville Mayor Karen Heck, state Sen. Colleen Lachowicz and a representative from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office, gathered at the school Thursday to surprise the two girls with $2,500 college scholarships.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals of Northern New England awarded the duo the Demont Scholarship Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy.

The 8-year-olds were nominated as a duo, and beat out six other finalists, according to Lauren Sterling, an AFP-NNE committee member and Educare Central Maine’s philanthropy specialist. They are prospective members of the college class of 2027.

With more than $40,000 raised through contributions, the food pantry at the school — once the size of a small closet and able to hold only non-perishable goods — is now much larger, directly across from the office in the center of the school and will have a refrigerator.

“We can do milk, meats, all kinds of salads and vegetables,” said Jennifer Johnson, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at the school. “Things that will increase the nutritional value for students instead of just a box of macaroni and cheese.”

A food pantry will also be established at the Albert S. Hall School in Waterville, which many students attend after they leave Mitchell School, which is kindergarten to third grade.

“There were some students that had expressed concern about what they will do next year when they leave third grade,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to make sure they’re covered.”

When giving the girls their scholarship awards, Sterling joked to St. Peter and Willette that they are ready for college next year.

“No, we have to go to third grade first,” Alice quipped.

Between the $40,000 the girls helped raised and other money that has been raised, Johnson said the food pantry has about $60,000, which will cover the pantry’s cost and expansion for the next 12 to 15 years.

Johnson said that parents and school officials from other communities have called to try to get a similar pantry started, adding that the girls’ influence is stretching to others in the school district as well.

“We had a boy in kindergarten, he and his younger brother did a similar thing and donated the food and money to the school,” Johnson said. “We received a check from a fourth grader late in the spring after she collected donations for her birthday. It’s spreading.”

Out of all the work Gabbie and Alice have done, they may be most proud that they’ve inspired others to help fight hunger.

“It makes me feel really good that we’re making a difference and that other kids are starting to recognize that that’s nice to do,” Gabbie said, “and so then hopefully nobody goes hungry.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @jessescardina

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