Fifteen sites in Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro will offer breakfast, lunch and snacks this summer to anyone age 18 and younger.

The Summer Food Program, sponsored by Alternative Organizational Structure 92 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will kick off at 11 a.m. Monday for all three communities at North Street Playground in Waterville and continue through Aug. 14.

While the program has been in place several years, AOS 92 has expanded it and added new sites. The state Department of Education’s Child Nutrition office helps coordinate the program.

“Anyone 18 and younger can eat for free at any site in the state of Maine,” said Paula Pooler, AOS 92 finance director and food service director. “You don’t have to be from Waterville, Winslow or Vassalboro to come. Any family can dial 211 to find out where sites are, or go online to summerfoodrocks, put in where they are located and it’ll tell you the 10 closest sites.”

The program ensures children from low-income families get nutritious meals during the summer, when school is not in session, at approved sites where there is high concentration of those children. The meals must meet federal nutritional guidelines. Trained school food service workers prepare and deliver the meals, which must be eaten at the meal sites.

Pooler, AOS 92 Superintendent Eric Haley and Barbara Bonnell, food service quality control supervisor, inspected a new 2015 Dodge Ram 1500 van that the Waterville food service program was able to buy for delivering food, as the 15-year-old Chevrolet van it was using was unsafe and constantly breaking down, losing power, brakes and power steering while it was being driven, according to officials. It has been repaired and will be used this summer to supplement the new van.

The year-round Waterville food service program pays for itself through federal subsidies and meal fees, so no local tax money was used to buy the van and funding for it does not come out of the school budget, according to Haley.

The van, which also will be used to transport food during the school year to Mount Merici Academy and the alternative education program based at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, is painted with colorful fresh fruit and vegetables and will play music as it approaches summer meal sites, so that children will recognize it and hear it arriving.

Haley told the Waterville Board of Education recently that state officials are excited AOS 92’s summer meals program because of the creative ideas Pooler and Bonnell have brought to the program, including the van art and the playing of music, much as an old-fashioned ice cream truck plays music when it travels through neighborhoods to alert children it is arriving.

“They really like the fact that we are doing as much as we are doing,” Haley said. “They are trying to spread it in the state of Maine.”

Gail Lombardi, program coordinator for the Summer Food Service Program in the state Department of Education’s Child Nutrition office, said Waterville has expanded its summer program over the last couple of years.

“They are getting meals out to a housing site, and that’s good because children are already there,” Lombardi said. “The park is wonderful because families do go there to play, and we encourage that activity. I’m just really pleased with how Waterville has been working to reach more children.”

Lombardi said 600,000 meals were served last summer in Maine through the program.

State officials, including Jamie Curley, Summer Food Service Program outreach coordinator, will attend Monday’s kickoff in Waterville, where a free barbecue lunch including burgers and hot dogs, fresh fruit, vegetables and milk will be offered to anyone age 18 and younger.

Jan Kalio, regional team leader program specialist for the New England regional office of the USDA in Boston, also will be on hand. The kickoff is a way to help promote the program and let people know food is available for children. Lombardi said any community wanting to start a summer meals program may contact her at 624-6876. In some cases, smaller communities partner with other communities to sponsor meal sites, she said. Sponsors may be a school district, a town government or another agency.

There are 118 sponsors that host more than 360 sites statewide, according to Lombardi.

“If we hit 374, that will be 10 percent over last year and that’s our goal here, is to have a 10 percent increase in sponsors and sites.”

Waterville qualifies to receive funding for the summer meal program because it has at least one school with 50 percent or more of its students eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunches.

At George J. Mitchell School in Waterville, 73 percent of children qualify for free and reduced-price lunch; at the Albert S. Hall School, 66 percent; Waterville Junior High School, 64 percent; and Waterville Senior High School, 53 percent, according to Pooler.

At Winslow Elementary School, 56 percent qualify; Winslow Junior High, 45 percent; Winslow High School, 41 percent; and Vassalboro Community School, 55 percent.

“It’s 64 percent for the entire district, so you know there’s a need,” Pooler said.

Hundreds of meals were served in AOS 92 meal program last summer, according to officials.

“We feed upwards of 300-plus children a day just in Waterville alone,” Bonnell said. “In Winslow we did probably 225 on a daily basis.”

In Vassalboro, only 12 to 15 children a day came for meals last year, so the program was not paying for itself. This year, officials will try something different — preparing the meals at Winslow Elementary School and taking them to Vassalboro Community School. The food is cooked at the Mitchell School for the Waterville program.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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