PORTLAND — Devin Georgatos, 5, piled his plate with the lettuce he helped grow in the school garden, a spinach wrap and fresh fruit, at Presumpscot Elementary School on a Wednesday night.

The school is one of the 15 new summer food program locations open in Cumberland County this year, thanks to new legislation aiming to address child hunger in Maine.

Summer food programs across the country provide free federally funded meals to children who may not otherwise get them when the school year ends and the cafeteria closes.

“The value of these programs is that they create healthier people and communities,” said Ron Adams, director of food services for Portland Public schools.

About 83,000 Maine children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year in Maine, which is ranked the second-hungriest state in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But only 15 percent of qualifying children get summer meals, state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a press conference July 18 at which he announced passage of An Act to Reduce Student Hunger.

The legislation calls for the establishment of federally funded summer food service programs in areas where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. When legislation passed, one-quarter of Maine counties did not have summer meal sites.

Presumpscot Elementary is one of 218 sites providing meals this summer across the state.

While most summer food programs provide lunch exclusively to children under 18, Presumpscot’s partnership with Wayside Soup Kitchen allows the location to serve dinner to parents and senior citizens as well as children.

“One of the beautiful things is that we’re able to feed a whole family as a unit,” said Wayside Executive Director Susan Violet. “It creates a learning opportunity for eating well together. Sometimes students are the ones teaching their parents about different kinds of vegetables.”

School staff and volunteers serve about 40 meals are each night from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at the Presumpscot location.

People of all ages pour in the door promptly, check in and wander down the cafeteria line, perusing healthy items like vegetable wraps, beef stew, fruit, milk, baked chips and salad.

Each night there are educational events after dinner. Wednesdays are “Read and Feed” nights when the school library opens for an hour after dinner.

Devin’s mother, Sanet Georgatos, said they come a few times a week.

“It saves me from cooking and saves me quite a chunk of food costs. He gets to feel like he’s going out to eat,” she said.

“He has fun coming. Our whole neighborhood comes here.”

Violet said the program aims to be warm and welcoming.

“It’s hard to feed a family. Food prices are going up and working wages are not,” she said. “There is no sense of charity here. People come here for a community meal.”

 

Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at: [email protected]