SEARSPORT — While the KINDNESS meal program of Searsport originally started as a way to help children in Searsport and Stockton Springs during vacation period, the program’s mission has shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been combined with a separate meal program that was targeted for the area’s seniors and shut-ins.
The KINDNESS program was established in the summer of 2019 through the missions committee at Searsport’s First Congregational Church to feed the youth when school is not in session.
A separate program providing home cooked meals to seniors and shut-ins was morphed into the KINDNESS program during the pandemic.
“The KINDNESS program has since expanded to a community outreach program involving members from other churches, organizations and individuals who have the common interest of bettering the lives of those less fortunate,” David Walsh said.
The KINDNESS program was established following a meeting with RSU 20 Superintendent Chris Downing when members of the community and Downing discussed paying school meal debts. (RSU 20 serves students of Searsport and Stockton Springs across Searsport Elementary School, Searsport District Middle School and Searsport District High School.)
“During that meeting, Superintendent Chris Downing spoke of his greater concern regarding the children who do not have access to food during vacation — especially during the summer,” said Walsh. “Although there was a free lunch program in place, most students did not or could not participate in that program. His concern was almost a challenge to see if we could find a way to address the issue.”
Following the meeting at the school district level, program organizers sat down with the town administration.
Searsport Town Manager James Gillway held an impromptu meeting with the organizers, listening to the pitch and the group’s request for assistance.
Gillway supported the plan and offered Walsh, the town’s Office of General Assistance Administrator, as a liaison. The town recently granted $7,500 to the program in support of its programs.
“Our meals program offers delivery of home cooked meals to anyone in need, with our specific target originally the elderly and shut-ins,” said Walsh. “We deliver them to seniors who can’t or don’t cook for themselves, shut-ins with no way to shop, let alone cook, or families that, for whatever their circumstances, can’t make it through the month without that extra support. There are large numbers of elderly, sick, or struggling families out there, in our own back yard, who need help, and don’t or won’t ask for it.”
The primary source of funding, Walsh said, is through community fundraisers.
With a newfound focus on the youth of the community, the program has introduced an option to sponsor a child for $35 a week, equivalent to the cost of a bag of food. The sponsorship program allows community members to sponsor a child for a specific vacation week or a week in the summer.
“Currently we serve 80 [to] 100 families during the vacation period,” Walsh said. “Of course with the current health situation, we anticipate the need to grow exponentially. Our meals program varies greatly, as winter months there is always a greater need. This past week we delivered 110 meals.”
The program provides a variety of foods each week with a typical bag for a single child including nearly three dozen items (see sidebar for a general list).
The meals program, meanwhile, distributes four meals per person with servings large and usually able to serve two people.
“A single person receives enough for one week,” Walsh noted.
The selection of meals varies, but the possible list of what will be on the menu includes (with vegetarian options available):
Possible Soup: chicken noodle, turkey with rice, split pea with ham, potato leek, butternut squash, beef stew, pork stew and chowders.
Possible Meals: baked ham, stuffed pork loin, turkey dinner, lemon chicken, pasta primavera, lasagna with meatballs, chicken parmigiana, corned beef and cabbage, stuffed peppers or macaroni and cheese.
Fittingly, the program’s chairperson has a favorite quote, from John Bunyan, which perfectly defines the group’s mission: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
Reach George Harvey at: email@example.com.