Feeding the 5,000Free lunch program benefits children
Rockland — School is out for the summer, but each morning Cathy Dinsmore and Celia Nieme can be found packing 200 salads, sandwiches and fresh fruit into brown paper lunch bags in the Rockland District Middle School kitchen.
About 5,000 lunches will be served to children this summer in Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Rockport and Camden thanks to a community-based effort to provide free lunches.
Two hundred lunches per day are made and distributed to 10 sites through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program, based at Rockland District Middle School.
"At all qualified open sites anyone 18 and under can walk in off the street and get lunch," said Regional School Unit 13 School Nutrition Director Charles Butler. Butler volunteers with the program for the summer months.
There is a need in the area for such a program since 54 percent of RSU 13 students qualify for free or reduced lunch, he said.
Serving sites are:
Penobscot Bay YMCA, 116 Union St., Rockport
Rockland Public Library, 80 Union St.
Rockland Rec Center, 61 Limerock St.
The Salvation Army, 27 Payne Ave., Rockland
St. George School, 65 Main St., Tenants Harbor
Camden Teen Center, 10 Knowlton St.
Thomaston Public Library, 60 Main St.
Oceanside High School East, 400 Broadway, Rockland
South School, 100 Holmes St., Rockland
Youthlinks, 420 Broadway, Rockland
The long-time program, which used to be offered at RDMS only, was revamped three summers ago and now delivers food directly to where it is needed most, Butler said.
"We served 4,200 meals last year and we will exceed that this year," Butler said. He said he would love to see more than 5,000 lunches served by the end of the program on Aug. 15.
The menu varies each day, but generally includes a salad or sandwich, some sort of protein such as cheese or yogurt, fruit and low-fat milk. If children do not like the main course being offered, such as a salad, they can choose to have a SunButter and jelly sandwich. SunButter is made with sunflower seeds instead of peanuts.
To be eligible as a serving site, a school either has to have more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch or 50 percent of the population in an area must fall into a certain economic range, based on census data.
"It creates a section of sites that you wouldn't think they would qualify, but they do," Butler said of using census data, noting the Teen Center in Camden and the Penobscot Bay YMCA in Rockport are qualifying sites.
Participation guidelines include:
— Lunch is free to anyone 18 years old and younger.
— A person 19 years of age and older who has a mental or physical disability and who participates during the school year in a public or private non-profit school program is eligible.
— Adult family members of eligible children participating in the free summer lunch program may also receive a lunch for free. Adult meals are sponsored by Penobscot Bay YMCA.
— Lunch must be eaten at the serving site.
— Children will be served first.
— A limited number of meals are sent to the serving sites each day.
— Alternative meals cannot be provided for those with allergies.
Dinsmore, who is the Oceanside High School East Kitchen Manager and Niemi, a RDMS ed tech make a majority of the lunches. Volunteer Tammy Smith also helps prepare lunches. Dinsmore said the program is always looking for more volunteers and is also a good opportunity for high school students to log community service hours, which is required for graduation.
In addition to being reimbursed through the USDA, various community organizations also provide financial support for the program. Supporters are: Penobscot Bay YMCA, Maine Lobster Festival, Good Tern Natural Foods, Lovering & Associates, Knox County Community Health Coalition, Rockland Public Library, St. George and Rockland Recreation Departments, Youthlinks, The Salvation Army, 5210 Let's Go Knox County, Picker Family Resource Center and Penquis.
To find out more, go to health.rsu13.org.
Healthy Lincoln County also provides this program at Knox County sites in Union, Warren and Waldoboro. For more information, contact Anni Pat McKenney at 563-1330 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.