PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Thousands of Maine families will be eating ingredients their children brought home with them from school.
Fresh produce, vegetables, and fruit, plus bread, all donated by Hannaford and Shaw's supermarkets is delivered to schools through The Locker Project, a group that has set up food pantries in schools to help a growing number of students who aren't getting enough to eat.
At last count, that is one out of every four children in Maine.
“We conservatively estimate that about 1500 students are regularly accessing our foods each month and then when you multiply that times the number of their family members that they're sharing it with at home, too, it definitely gets up into the thousands of folks who are needing the food and luckily getting the food,” explained Locker Project Executive Director Katie Brown.
The holidays, long weekends and summer time are the most difficult times for many students who can go long stretches without getting a proper meal and nutrition.
We tagged along on a delivery to the Head Start at the corner of Congress and Washington Ave. in Portland.
“We deliver a lot to the schools. And even here, like head start. Everyone gets very excited when I come.
"That’s because they know when Stephen Perazone arrives, it’s a very good day. “Squash, butternut squash, avocados, lettuce, broccoli, lemons, limes, eggs,” Perazone ticks off the ingredients of fresh vegetables and fruit, plus baked bread, donated by local Hannaford’s and Shaws supermarkets and delivered on Thanksgiving eve to the East End Center in Portland.
This Head Start is one of 26 in Cumberland County. And the need, according to Brown, is enormous. “We all know that one out of four, one out of five children in Maine are food insecure but at so many of our schools it’s like 90 percent of the students are food insecure.”
The Locker project is working hard to fill the food gap in under served areas of southern Maine. “This is just a bunch of strawberries,” four-year-old Claudia explains, a huge grin spreading across her face.
The program provides food for pre-schoolers like Claudia and her best friend, 3-year old Martha, who pick through peppers, artichokes and green beans; produce they will take home with them, and will help their families prepare their Thanksgiving dinners. Enough food, it will likely help feed them through the long, holiday weekend.
Kaitlyn Brayley works at the Head Start in Portland. “The produce is really helpful for these families because we serve a lot of different cultures so produce is part of every culture, so cooking, especially the vegetables, potatoes, and cabbages and squashes are really big this time of year.”
And that’s how the Locker Project works—in conjunction with the Good Shepherd Food bank, they take food donations directly to Mainers who most need them.
“I’ve heard children call it a free farmer’s market,” Katie Brown shared. “And to see the pride that children have when they’re filling up bags that they’re taking home to their families is just amazing.”
The evidence is plastered across the faces of the two very young girls, Claudia and Martha, gleaning joy from the colorful bags of food they’ll be toting home.
“Come Monday, we’ll turn our attention toward re-stocking our pantries and feeding Maine students through the end of December and the holidays.” And Katie Brown says that will take an enormous effort. She says the Locker Project is always looking for volunteers and donations, both food and financial. To find out how you can help, go to www.mainelockerproject.org or call them directly (207) 899-9540.
The volume of food rescued continues to grow--in July alone, The Locker Project saved more than 16,000 pounds of food from going to waste. 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. This coming school year, the Locker Project expects to offer take-home food programs in 25 schools across Greater Portland and they are always looking for local businesses who would like to sponsor their work.