Alongside doctors, nurses, and other essential personnel, school nutrition professionals have emerged as local heroes during the COVID-19 crisis. Day after day, they arrive in parking lots, shuttered schools, and makeshift distribution centers, to serve healthy food to thousands of students and families.
As a local coordinator for Let’s Go!, an obesity prevention initiative of MaineHealth implemented in partnership with Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital, school nutrition professionals’ unwavering dedication to nourishing kids is no surprise to me. Across Maine, they are always working tirelessly to prepare meals that are healthy, balanced, and appealing to students. The majority of cafeterias who partner with us offer easy-to-eat sliced fruits and a variety of vegetables to encourage students to choose healthy options. Throughout the typical school year, many regularly source local produce for school meals, supporting Maine
farmers. The Department of Education runs several programs, including Farm and Sea to School, Local Foods to Local Schools, and Maine Harvest Lunch Week, dedicated to making innovative use of local, seasonal produce. These creative programs help contribute to nutritious school meals while engaging students in fun, healthy food-related activities and supporting local produce.
With the economic impact of COVID-19, many families need access to these healthy meals now more than ever. School nutrition programs across the state have gone the extra mile to support kids and families through this time. The team at RSU 71 in Waldo County has worked to offer breakfast and lunch deliveries, as well as curb-side pickup, three days a week. They have also arranged for buses to drop off backpack meals on Fridays to needy families in the RSU 71 community. According to Perley Martin, director of nutrition for RSU 71, the team had provided more than 39,000 meals by the end of May.
“Our team has done a tremendous duty to the RSU 71 community and recognizes the need to provide health meals to students during these unusual times,” said Martin. “The need is real and staff show up every prep and delivery day without hesitation to make a difference to a child’s day.”
In Knox County, the food service program in RSU 40 has been delivering approximately 1,100 breakfasts and 1,200 lunches each day. Storm Henderson, food service director for RSU 40, said the district will continue delivering meals to children through the end of the school year, at which point the Summer Food Service Program will be available.
The Summer Food Service Program, also known as the Summer Meals Program, was established to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. When school is out, SFSP provides free meals to kids and teens in low-income areas. For more information on the program, including where you these free meals will be offered, visit http://fns.usda.gov/meals4kids.
On behalf of Let’s Go!, we’d like to thank school nutrition staff for their dedication to students and families all year long, and especially in these uncertain times. No matter where children are spending their day, school nutrition professionals are there to help keep them healthy and ready to learn.
About Pen Bay Medical Center
Pen Bay Medical Center is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit pbmc.org.
Waldo County General Hospital
Waldo County General Hospital is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit wcgh.org.