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Food rescue as a means to ease the pain of hunger

The Locker Project feeds school kids with donated food.

Two terms that seem to go hand in hand when talking about hunger – food insecurity, a term used to describe folks who may not know where their next meal is coming from - and food rescue, or saving perfectly good food that might otherwise end up in a dumpster. Food insecurity in Maine is very high, and The Locker Project is employing food rescue as a means to ease the pain of hunger. One out of four or five children are considered food insecure in this state– in some areas, including the Greater Portland area, and rural areas of the state, those numbers are higher. 

About 8 years ago, Munjoy Hill mom Katie Wallace noticed that some kids weren’t bringing snacks to school — and were missing out on that small but important time to refuel. She had an idea to offer free snacks at her daughter’s school. Those free snacks soon grew to have the small food pantry at that school, in a place where the kids might visit, like the nurse’s office. The need far outpaced her ability to keep up — and when Katie Wallace handed the reins of her efforts over to her friend, Katie Brown – and The Locker Project was born. 

The work of the Locker Project has been to secure sources of good, fresh food – on its way to being discarded – and redirecting it to hundreds and hundreds of kids. Hunger in Maine is widespread across the whole population, but for kids in particular – the numbers are really high when compared to the rest of the nation. The Locker Project now makes the rounds to local Hannafords, and Shaws, and places like Standard Baking and Rosemont Markets. They partner with the Good Shepherd Food Bank to purchase supplies at low cost. Westbrook High is one of 25 schools where The Locker Project distributes free food to anyone who has a need. No questions asked, ever. At each school, volunteers show up to set the food out, and when the bell rings, the store is open. And the need is even greater in the summer months when kids cannot rely on school lunch programs. The Locker Project distributes roughly 6000 pounds of pantry food, and well over 12,000 pounds of fresh produce to greater Portland students every month – throughout the year. In the summer, they will often partner with neighborhood groups and community centers to make sure the food keeps getting to those kids. 

Over the summer, the Locker Project held more than 50 "free farmers markets" at schools, parks, and community centers, bringing healthy food directly to kids and families in need.

Co-founder Katie Brown has launched a sister program in York County called Youth Full Maine. The two programs are making healthy food available to thousands of students who might otherwise go hungry in the the evening, over the weekend and during school breaks. Some local businesses have signed up to sponsor their neighborhood schools, but more are needed.

For more information, to volunteer, or to donate, contact The Locker Project at: info@mainelockerproject.org / (207) 899-9540 / www.mainelockerproject.org / Locker Project, 73 Federal Street, Portland, 04101.