BELFAST, Maine — A collaborative effort between multiple community partners and agencies in Waldo County are working together to bring healthy meal bags to kids this summer.
This new summer initiative by the Waldo Community Action Partners packs breakfast and lunch items in big brown bags for kids 18 and under.
Twice a week, volunteers meet at the Waldo County Technical Center's kitchen area to assemble 140 meal bags.
"We said, why just shut it down and not use it? Might as well do some good for the community," says Kevin Michaud, the Director Waldo County Technical Center.
"This is our first year doing the summer food service program officially!" says Cherie Merrill, the Waldo Community Action Partners nutrition and CACFP supervisor.
"We've heard a lot about food insecurity here in our state, and in Waldo County, it's no different," says Michaud. One of the reasons why Michaud saw this effort as an opportunity for the Waldo County Technical Center's kitchen to be used as a place for meal bag preparation. A place that also allowed volunteers to follow CDC social distancing guidelines while preparing the bags.
"So when you add that up that's about 1,900 meals we are passing out and not only meals, but it's with milk," says Susan Dupler, Belfast Public Health Nurse and also a volunteer in preparing and distributing these meal bags.
A challenge the Waldo Community Action Partners ran into was how to get all these meals out to the kids. Luckily, Midcoast Public Transportation stepped up and offered to deliver the bags to 8 different locations throughout Waldo County.
"We have two buses a day, they come here we load up and then they drive out to all the sites," says Merrill.
These buses make eight stops at mobile home parks and low-income homes in Belfast, Searsport and Swanville.
"We have families with people that have lost their license so they don't even have a car, so that's why we are reaching out to the people that cannot get to these sites," says Dupler.
"This summer we wanted to bring the meals to kids who couldn't get to the schools," says Merrill.
"Ohhh a lot of times they are waiting for us! It's just so exciting because they see the big bus and they see us coming and they are all standing outside waiting for these meals!" says Dupler.
10-year-old Alayna Bubar from Belfast tells NEWS CENTER Maine she receives very healthy bags.
"A sandwich, some apples, some bananas, and some celery which I don't really like, and then some carrots!" says Bubar.
But that's not all, there's an educational component too. "The Book Lady," is a lady in an SUV filled with boxes that comes along with books for kids and adults. As the bus makes its way through the different communities, the "The Book Lady" follows and gives out books to the kids.
"Sometimes they don't really care about the food, they are just jumping up and down waiting for "The Book Lady," because she is taking the interest to get to know these kids and to find out what kind of books they are looking for!" says Dupler.
United Midcoast Charities is another collaborative organization in this effort. It's a non-profit that collects funds and makes grants to help those in need. The non-profit serves people living on Knox and Waldo Counties.
"We are partnering with organizations in those two counties to address four specific areas of need: including housing, health and safety, economic security and food," says Megan Williams, the Executive Director at United Midcoast Charities.
"The food programs that Waldo Community Action Partners is working this summer really helped to address the needs of families and students who are out of school in the summertime, and they've seen a very large spike in need, especially during this pandemic," says Williams.
This feeding children effort started the first week of July and ends on Thursday, August 27.