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Homemade hot lunch made with local ingredients by local businesses isn't just feeding students but a community

The Community Regional Charter School in Skowhegan is pouring its school lunch dollars into the local community, helping businesses stay afloat.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — At the Community Regional Charter School in Skowhegan,  nutrition, and supporting the local economy is a top priority. When executive director Travis Works took over in 2014, the charter school which teaches 315 students, had no lunch program. 

For the last two years, the school has partnered with a local commercial kitchen called the Maine Meal. They specialize in creating frozen and prepared meals that rely heavily on local ingredients. 

"I want to feed all of the kids in the school system what I would feel comfortable feeding my own children," says Works.

Since the school closed in March due to the coronavirus, getting students the nutritious meals they've grown accustomed to, was important to Works and his staff. Thanks to federal dollars all Maine children are able to get free school lunch regardless of whether they qualify for the low or reduced lunch program. Now anyone living in the CRCS school district, ages 0-18 can access the homemade local meals. And they have been. 

Before school closed its doors the Maine Meal was making about 1,000 school lunches a week. Now they are making almost triple that amount. Parents have to drive to Skowhegan twice a week to pick up the meals that include breakfast, lunch, and a snack. 

Travis Works says the school is getting $7.49 per day in state and federal funding to spend on a child's breakfast, lunch, and snack. Of those dollars, the school is spending $7 locally at the Maine Meal, purchasing produce directly from local farmers and through a new partnership with a local bakery. 

The Bankery in Skowhegan is an old bank turned into a bakery, thus the name, owned by Matt Dubois and his spouse and twin brother. When the pandemic hit Dubois had to close his doors and was struggling to pay his bills. Then Travis Works called. They asked for two food items, for breakfast and snack, every day for 500 students. Dubois got to work modifying his recipes to meet the whole grain and fruit requirement set by the federal school lunch program. 

"It's nice to be able to provide not only locally baked products but products that you can pronounce all of the ingredients and we know it's not coming from a large company that's mass-producing things," says Dubois. He says the new school account has kept his business afloat during a very difficult time and he hopes other school districts will consider similar partnerships. 

"It supports local and small businesses that are the backbone of our country and helps that local hub of businesses stay alive during this time and beyond really," says Dubois. The Bankery has been able to bring back their 22 furloughed employees and is slowly getting back on their feet.  

Both the Bankery and Maine Meals use local products including flour from Maine Grains which is just up the street. Travis Works says feeding his students they way they are doing it at CRCS is actually feeding the entire community. And he is taking the opportunity to teach students where their food comes from. 

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