COVID-19 has deeply affected many parts of life as we know it. This virus knows no borders, seasons or political leanings. The same is true for individuals experiencing hunger – especially Maine’s children.

This crisis has caused many of us to rethink how we “do life”– from work to school to everyday errands. Not lost on any of us is our deep gratitude for the many Mainers serving on the frontlines: medical professionals, grocery store clerks, public service workers, and other essential workers. Now, let’s add to that list the scores of folks who are making sure our kids don’t go hungry.

Full Plates Full Potential along with our partners – and frankly, all Mainers – had to quickly and nimbly respond to current and growing needs in an unfamiliar landscape.

Maine’s school nutrition programs are the first and best source for kids relying on our safety net. Pre-pandemic, schools were feeding eligible kids daily breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals. Today, even more children need school meals as many more families are experiencing hardships.

At Full Plates Full Potential, our guiding principle is that no child should go hungry. With growing need and challenged access, we pivoted. On March 16, we created an Emergency Fund. To date, we have supported 227 schools with more than $170,000. Schools are using these funds to purchase food, offset the costs of safe food packaging and buy equipment, like coolers, to maintain proper food safety while delivering on bus routes.

While most of us are quarantined at home, hundreds of school nutrition staff, bus drivers, and volunteers risk their own health to show up at their school kitchens day after day. They show up because they know Maine kids are relying on them to prepare, safely package, and transport meals. All of these individuals are truly hunger heroes.

Melanie Lagasse is school nutrition director for Maine School Administrative District 33 as well as MSAD 27 and Madawaska Public Schools. She has 18 employees across three districts. She is preparing school breakfast and lunches for 1,375 students six days a week. In the first three weeks of this crisis, Melanie and her team served just over 46,000 meals!

On Deer Isle-Stonington, Sheila Nevells is school nutrition director. She has two employees and four ed-techs prepping and packing meals. She has 338 kids in her K-12 system. Last week she served 3,347 breakfasts and lunches to children in her community!

Full Plates Full Potential is proud to help schools feed kids during unanticipated closure. And as tragic as this crisis is, there are silver linings. First, we have seen an outpouring of support as so many Mainers have given generously to those in need. Mainers looking out for each other in our toughest moments – that is who we are. Second and equally as important, we have made feeding kids the No. 1 priority that it should be.

How did this happen?

During this crisis, the United States Department of Agriculture traded in red tape and burdensome rules for embracing feeding all kids like never before.

Because of Maine’s Department of Education Child Nutrition Team’s tireless work to secure waivers and flexibility for our state nutrition programs, all schools can continue to serve meals during this closure and respond to the urgent needs of kids and families. This is a game changer for kids and families.

Today, we have grown to more than 700 meals sites operating, ranging from designated pick up sites in communities to school buses delivering meals along bus routes. The ripple effect of all these school meal sites goes far and wide. It means a child can get up to 14 nutritious meals a week. These nutritious meals are alleviating some of the economic stresses so many families are facing. Finally, it’s helping to ease some of the demands on existing food pantries and backpack programs.

Looking forward, we can take this lesson and apply it to the future. It can be our new normal – the way we continue to operate our school nutrition programs.

I pray that we will get out of this crisis as soon as we can. And when we do emerge, let’s not go back to the days where we made it hard for children to access school nutrition programs. Instead, let’s embrace how we’re operating school meal programs during this crisis and give our children every opportunity to grow, learn and thrive.


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