Six Maine school districts have secured funds to extend their outreach efforts to ensure more families sign up for free and reduced-price meals.

On Tuesday, Full Plates Full Potential, a Maine nonprofit that works to eradicate child hunger in Maine, announced that Augusta Public Schools, Winthrop Public Schools, School Administrative District 17 in Oxford Hills, the Greenville School Department, Union 122 in Caribou and Regional School Unit 3 in Thorndike had won the organization’s first enrollment challenge, earning each one $500.

“The goal is to improve the ability to register kids for more USDA Child Nutrition programs,” said Erin Dow, school nutrition director for the Winthrop Public Schools.

John Woods, co-founder of Full Plates Full Potential, said the grants are going to school districts that are using a variety of tactics to tackle child hunger.

For Dow, the money will be used to tweak a software program the district uses to sign up children for the free and reduced-price lunches. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture has strict confidentiality requirements, she said, families don’t want their information floating around.

“Anything we can do to make it feel it’s more air-tight, we will,” she said.

Woods said school meals offer the best opportunity to end child hunger in Maine.

“More than 50 percent of the children in the state are living in homes that are food-insecure,” he said. “When kids have breakfast, there are positive effects. Absenteeism goes down, trips to the nurse’s office for headaches or stomach aches all but go away, and difficulty with peers in the classroom goes down.”

Many schools recognize this and provide free food to all students during standardized testing weeks.

“We’re trying to say every day is as important as testing days,” he said.

Full Plates Full Potential was launched in late 2014 by food directors, business and government officials, and leaders of nonprofit groups aimed at fighting childhood hunger. In addition to raising funds to support its initiatives, the organization has played a role in passing a variety of legislative proposals, including creating the Task Force to End Student Hunger and the Commission to End Student Hunger.

“The idea of ending hunger is complex,” Woods said, “but feeding a child is not. We have the food. We have the funding. Really, what we are focusing on is the barriers that prevent a child from accessing the benefit, which is given directly to children every day. There’s no pass-through with the families or parents.”

In Winthrop, Dow said about 38 percent of the students enrolled there qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“The goal for any district is to reach the 50 percent enrollment mark,” she said. More students who need meals are reached, and the district qualifies for more reimbursement from the federal government.

“I’m not sure our Census numbers support (us reaching) 50 percent, but anything we can do will help,” she said. “It would be awesome to reach 40 percent.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ