Although Lincoln County schoolchildren are out of school due to the coronavirus response, schools and community organizations continue to feed students who need it through delivery and pickup programs.
In addition to school districts, the Maine Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Damariscotta-based nonprofit Healthy Lincoln County are partnering to administer a USDA program that gives free meals to children.
Healthy Lincoln County runs the Lincoln County Summer Meals Program when school is out for the summer. Due to school closures resulting from the coronavirus, the USDA and the Maine Department of Education are activating the program now.
Kate Martin, director of Healthy Lincoln County, said the free meals are available to anyone 18 or under, regardless of whether they attend a public school.
The program just began and is already seeing a great turnout. According to Martin, it is giving meals to more than 750 kids a day across the county.
“We are seeing an increase and we are expecting an increase over time,” she said. “The longer the schools are closed … we know that’s going to affect our families and they might need this service more, and we are happy to continue to provide it.”
Each school kitchen has the responsibility to prepare meals.
According to Martin, the schools are being “creative with what they have.” Most of the food is “easy to pack up and easy to transport,” such as a sandwich or other creations from the food in their kitchens, she said.
The USDA, via the Maine Department of Education, reimburses the nonprofit at a flat rate for every meal it serves, Martin said. However, the reimbursement rate does not cover the costs of the program.
To donate, contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a check with “children’s meal program” in the memo line to Healthy Lincoln County, P.O. Box 1287, Damariscotta, ME 04543.
“It’s very much appreciated, especially not knowing how long this is going to last,” Martin said of donations.
Area schools and businesses act as pickup sites. At most sites, both breakfast and lunch will be available.
The Boothbay Region has three pickup sites: Boothbay Region Elementary School, Edgecomb Eddy School, and Southport Central School, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Bristol Consolidated School offers pickup from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; the CLC YMCA in Damariscotta from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Eastern River Childcare, in Dresden, from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Jefferson Village School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Miller School, in Waldoboro, from 11 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday (bus delivery available with sign-up); Nobleboro Central School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Whitefield Elementary School from 9-10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (bus delivery available with sign-up); and Wiscasset Elementary School from 8-10 a.m. Monday and Wednesday.
At the sites where food is not served every day, children can get two days worth of food, Martin said.
“That is because of a waiver that the state got through the USDA,” she said. “Normally, in the summertime, our program does not operate like this. But with the way things have evolved, and considering the nature of the situation, they have been really generous to allow some flexibility to allow us to do that.”
RSU 12 and RSU 40 schools have embraced meal drop-offs by bus. Families may register through their school’s website.
Martin has seen firsthand the excitement children feel when they see a bus drop off their food.
“It’s just something to have to look forward to. I have seen kids waiting out on their driveway for that bus to come by once a day,” Martin said. “There is a social routine benefit.”
At this time, the program has a full roster of volunteers.
“We’ve had amazing outreach, especially from the school staff. I think a lot of them are frustrated and looking for something to do, and so oftentimes, they are volunteering at the meal distribution sites,” Martin said.
Mark Deblois, principal of Whitefield Elementary School, said teachers use their work at pickup sites as a way to engage with students.