WALDO—When students walk through the doors of Waldo County Technical Center each morning, Math teacher Lacey Breems has learned to pinpoint the behavior of a hungry student.
“They can’t focus; they’re usually exhausted, or really disengaged in the lesson and program,” she said. “Some of them are old enough that they’ve gotten used to it, and they still can get through their class.”
Though not a traditional high school, WCTC, a technical center serves 255 students from Belfast, Searsport and Mount View. Of those students, Breems estimates about a quarter to a third of the students have the greatest need for food security and warm clothing.
“We get students come through for our programs both in the morning and afternoon,” she said. “In the morning, for some students, either there was no time to eat or they didn’t have anything at home to eat for breakfast, or they couldn’t afford a breakfast at their school. Not all of the high schools offer a free breakfast or lunch, so we started stocking instant oatmeal and dry cereal in a closet pantry. In the afternoon, they might grab some mac and cheese or an instant soup and heat it up. Then, you start to see more of an engagement. Sometimes, it’s just the joy of eating food is enough to wake them up and put them in better moods.”
Maine ranks seventh in the nation for food insecurity and first in New England.
“The economy is not in a great place right now, especially in Waldo county,” said Breems. “We’ve got families struggling; students struggling with homelessness and going hungry. We feel it’s our responsibility to help our students in any way possible. Sometimes we help families as well and allow students to take food home.”
And it’s not just food that some students need.
“Of those students with the greatest need, they rarely have gloves or hats,” she said. “Some have no good winter coats or footwear and are wearing a heavy sweatshirt or the same beat up sneakers year round, even in the bitter cold. Then, there are other students who need protective footwear for some of the programs we offer and they can’t participate in the class if all they own are a pair of flip flops.”
Waldo County Technical Center has two programs that speak to these needs: Food For Friends, which provides free food for students, and the It’s Cool To Be Warm clothing closet run by Rachel Littlefield, which provides students with clean clothes, warm coats, and winter boots.
Students can access the food and clothing donations year round. Breems said that WCTC’s Student Services Coordinator Bonnie Kein will often procure a specific item or items to outfit a student for the wintertime through the school’s small budget and largely through donated items. Breems added that WCTC’s own staff is the primary source of those donations.
The clothing and accessories are given out year round and just before Christmas break, the staff lays all of the items out on cafeteria tables for the students to “shop” and take home for free calling it ‘Tis The Season.
WCTC is looking for help from the Midcoast community as the weather turns cold. Food items that are most needed are easily prepared, teen-friendly food items such as mac and cheese, cereal, and canned soup or pasta.Adult sized clothing items, especially coats, boots, and hoodies (sweatshirts) are of greatest need. Gift cards to local grocery and/or clothing stores are also very helpful . Anyone interested in helping feed and clothe the teenagers of Waldo County, please contact Lacey Breems at Waldo County Technical Center at 342-5231. ext/ 222 or via email at email@example.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org