BELFAST, Maine — 'The Game Loft' in Belfast was established 23 years ago as an after school program for kids and teens in Waldo County. It's a place where kids could learn more through mentoring and non-electronic games, but those programs are on stand-by due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"In the past kids have come to us, and when the pandemic hit we realized we needed to go to them," says Patricia Estabrook, co-director at the Game Loft.
The Game Loft found ways to stay connected to its community members, and it is currently making freshly cooked meals seven days a week. Waldo County residents can stop by its location on 78A Main St. Belfast, and now the organization is offering a home delivery service on Friday's, Saturday's and Sunday's to Waldo County residents who can't make it to downtown Belfast during week days, but would take advantage of a weekend meal delivery.
"To make sure that none of our neighbors go hungry, none of our neighbors are isolated, none of our neighbors are unsafe," adds Estabrook. "We have started doing our programs by electronic means too."
This new, weekend program is mostly thanks to a "Federal Emergency Management Agency," or "FEMA" grant. The Good Shepherd Food Bank, United Way of Eastern Maine, The Soap Closet in Belfast, the Belfast Free Library, and other organizations have stepped up and given to the Game Loft's effort to keep its community connected and less isolated.
"It's harder to get to the families further out in Waldo County that can't, maybe they don't have a car, maybe they can't afford gas to come into town every day, and they really needed help," says Anne Sagesse, cook at the Game Loft.
All meals are free and meet USDA standards for balanced nutrition.
"Just keeping in touch and letting the kids feel like they still belong, and they are still a part of something," says Thelma Howard, volunteer at the Game Loft. "These bags have some thought and there's a little bit of that personal touch that goes with it and it is felt by the kids out there."
Besides meals, households also received a bag with items including soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, fresh produce, healthcare products, puzzles, books, and socks. A personal touch that Howard says, is what makes these bags extra special.
"It makes a difference in the fact that they are more connected, that they are healthier, they see us, and they realize we are not giving up on them just because we can't be together," says Estabrook.
Sawyer Collins and his mother Nicole Lazure are just a few of the families who benefit from the new home delivery program.
"They make a tremendous difference, beyond just getting a really nice meal, as a single mom it's kind of nice to have one day off a week and rely on the program," says Lazure. "He [Sawyer] is home by himself during the week so having some social engagement in the weekend has been really beneficial."
"You can tell it's personalized because I've gotten books that interest me and it's not just a random one!" says Sawyer Collins.
Estabrook tells NEWS CENTER Maine they have resources to help anyone who need assistance during these trying times, "In non-pandemic times we only serve kids, now we are serving whole families, if there are families in need we want to make sure they are getting served."
"Hunger never stops, the need for connection never stops and we are available and ready and fortunately able to reach out to our neighbors," says Estabrook.