PORTLAND – James Mack had his hands full of gooey banana cake dough, and was sharing a laugh about it with a couple of other middle schoolers at the Preble Street soup kitchen Monday afternoon.

It was fun work, but with a serious point.

“It’s fun doing this, hanging out with friends,” said James, 13, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Middle School in Portland. “But it’s great knowing this helps people who have less than us. It makes me appreciate what I have even more.”

A group of 14 Lincoln seventh-graders spent a couple of hours at Preble Street on Monday afternoon, helping get the place ready for the evening meal. The students mopped floors, organized the pantry, sliced bread, baked a cake and did whatever else was needed.

The volunteer effort Monday was part of a 14-week after-school leadership program for the middle schoolers. It was organized by Rippleffect, an adventure leadership program based on Cow Island in Casco Bay.

The students worked on leadership skills for most of the winter, including on a winter camping trip. The volunteer effort Monday was a chance for them to use those skills in helping their community.

“We wanted them to have this experience to make the idea of leadership something concrete for them,” said Anna Klein Christie, executive director of Rippleffect.

David Doering, 13, spent part of his afternoon Monday slicing donated bread into little cubes, to be used as croutons, He said he and others in the program were given three choices about volunteer opportunities to try, including helping clean up at beaches and helping to clear walking trails.

But David said he and a majority of others felt like Preble Street would be the best experience for them.

“It seemed like this would be helping people in a more direct way,” David said.

They were also helping in ways they could relate to. James said he had made banana bread at home in the morning, so making banana cake was basically the same.

Christina Taylor, 13, looked like a chef as she spun a whisk between her two palms to beat six cups of eggs for the cake.

“I like to cook a lot,” Christina said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Christina and the others were helping sort donated food in the pantry, including moving around heavy boxes or giant cans of soup.

“It’s good to do something to help people less fortunate,” Christina said.

The grant-funded program was offered to seventh-graders at both Lincoln Middle School and Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland. Students who could potentially benefit from the program were identified by guidance counselors.

On Monday, the students from Lyman Moore were doing their community service work on Cow Island.

For the rest of this week, both groups will be on Cow Island working in gardens, kayaking, doing environmental projects and other activities that help develop leadership qualities.

Preble Street relies on different groups of volunteers to help prepare meals every day, said Joel Reed, program director at the soup kitchen. He thought it was great that the students were being given this opportunity to volunteer in a real, tangible way.

“They’re not being given busy work, they’re making food people will eat tonight,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]