Kristin Martin, with Colby College food services, right, hands off a bag full of meals Saturday at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep businesses closed and resources become scarce for some families, a Waterville organization is continuing to work to provide hot meals to its community.

The Alfond Youth & Community Center — which before the pandemic served meals to children at its center, the South End Teen Center and North End Boys and Girls Club, as well as to the child care programs in Regional School Unit 18 — began distributing meals to community members March 16.

Meals are available Monday through Friday at the Fairfield Community Center parking lot, Fabian Oil parking lot in Oakland, Fort Halifax parking lot in Winslow and the Alfond Youth & Community Center parking lot in Waterville from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

On Thursdays and Fridays, weekend backpack meals are available for pickup on a first-come, first-serve basis at the center. The backpacks are stocked with nonperishable, shelf-stable foods, including single-serve fruit cups, pasta or rice, as well as a fresh loaf of bread.

Shawn Forkey, food service community director at the Alfond Youth & Community Center, said that about 800 to 1,000 residents benefit from this service on a daily basis. Starting this weekend, Colby College’s dining services have stepped up to help prepare and distribute meals at the Waterville location.

To get a meal, community members do not need to call ahead. They just need to arrive at the pickup time and let the servers know how many children are being fed.

Kristin Martin, with Colby College food service, left, waits for another vehicle receiving meals to-go Saturday at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“We are providing the food to Colby. On the weekends, they are the ones preparing and packaging the meals and distributing them,” Forkey said.

Funding for the food is through the Alfond Youth & Community Center, though some of the cost is reimbursed through grants. They also have been accepting donations from organizations including chef Matt Crate, GRUB, AGNE and Stonewall Kitchen.

Forkey said that before the pandemic, he worked with one other staff member to prepare and hand out meals to children at the community center. Since the pandemic, he has increased his kitchen staff so that he is now working with five others.

“The everyday flow has changed for everyone that’s involved in the kitchen,” Forkey said. “We always knew how many kids we were providing meals for every day, and we know these kids. We’ve built relationships with most of them, because we also serve the meals to them.”

Anyone under 18 is able to receive a meal from these programs. While the curbside meals have a large supply, the backpacks are on a first-come, first-serve basis. The hot meals include five parts as well as a two-component snack.

Forkey said that he and his other colleagues in the kitchen have been doing their best to keep a safe distance from one another, using gloves, washing hands as much as possible, and wearing masks and other equipment as necessary.

“We’re just making sure that we’re making good and safe decisions,” Forkey said.

Lesa Brown, with food services at Colby College, waves at people driving by the food distribution tent Saturday at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additionally, on top of providing meals for the community, Forkey said that his staff is also preparing breakfast, lunch and snacks for the child care facility that the center is providing for MaineGeneral employees. Meals will continue to be handed out as schools remain closed.

“Our work day has stayed the same, but the way that we prep has taken longer,” Forkey said. “This has been a big change for everyone involved in the kitchen. We’re not necessarily seeing or interacting with the kids anymore. It’s different now because we’re building the relationships with (the kids’) families.”

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