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College students quarantine, pack meals for kids during coronavirus pandemic

A handful of college students who had to leave their campuses for the semester are volunteering at Camp Mechuwana in Winthrop to feed kids who are remote-learning.

WINTHROP, Maine — Life has been pretty unprecedented the past couple of months, especially for students whose semesters were altered by COVID-19-driven decisions.

Luke Thombs is a senior at Wheaton College in Massachusetts but is originally from Monmouth. For him and many others, the call to vacate campus for the rest of the semester was hard to take.

"Me personally being a senior, it was pretty devastating to be sent home during these last couple of months," Luke explained to NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom.

It's why he, Nick Nenice, Mark Greenwald, Ethan Thombs, and a few other college students at home are volunteering at Camp Mechuwana to take part in a new project, putting together meals to help feed grade-school students in a time when they need it the most. 

"It’s nice to put your efforts into the community so that there’s some good coming out of this," Luke expressed. He and the other volunteers also have personal connections to Camp Mechuwana as former camp counselors. They have been quarantining together for more than 40 days working on this initiative. 

The long hours put in, though, are worth it. 

"Just seeing how much you’re helping and how much this means to (people) just makes everything that much more fun," Greenwald, a University of New Hampshire student, noted.

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The project at Camp Mechuwana began largely in part because of executive director Norman Thombs' initiative. After realizing that area schools may not be able to provide meals to grade-school students for the rest of the year -- when many rely on those for daily sustenance -- he reached out to the state to become an official emergency pandemic school food site.

Norman says within 48 hours, the operation was up and running and is now serving students in Monmouth, Winthrop, and a couple of surrounding towns. 

"I think most people would be shocked at the food insecurity that was in place before the pandemic," Norman said about the ever-present need. 

Laurie Gifford agrees. She is a chair person for the local Cottrell-Taylor Christmas Basket Fund program, which normally serves families in need during the holiday season. This year, though, was an exception -- so they have partnered with Camp Mechuwana to provide food gift cards to families.

Gifford says she receives anywhere between 17 and 25 calls a week from people who need help -- either because hours were cut at work, or they were laid off. Sometimes, she's the one who has to reach out to families. 

"A lot of pride is there, and people don’t want to admit that there’s a need at home," Gifford explained about the nature of some Mainers. She also noted that a lot of the people she is in touch with these days are names and faces she has never crossed before in efforts to fight food insecurity -- a sign that COVID-19 has hit us all hard.

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"I mean, we can’t cure this, and we can’t, you know, make (people) be able to go back to work right now," Gifford said, "But we can help them at least not have to worry about feeding their children."

Thombs and Gifford say that they have received some help from the community, and every dollar does count. You can find out more about how to donate to Camp Mechuwana's website

RELATED: Donate to NEWS CENTER Maine's 2020 Feed Maine Telethon to help stop hunger in Maine.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus.