VOLUNTEERS with the Bath Area BackPack Program unpack fresh produce from the Good Shepherd Food Bank to distribute to local schools.

VOLUNTEERS with the Bath Area BackPack Program unpack fresh produce from the Good Shepherd Food Bank to distribute to local schools.


As it enters its fourth year, the Bath Area BackPack Program has partnered with the Good Shepherd Food Bank to distribute fresh produce to students in Bath area schools.

“The produce program started just this year, and it’s going to happen every second Tuesday of every month the school year is going on,” said Jeff Labbe of the Bath Area BackPack Program.

The program launched in September 2014 in an attempt to alleviate food needs among families at Dike-Newell School.

“It started out with like $300 and just a bunch of us (wondering) how can we feed these 10 kids over at Dike-Newell who were coming to school Monday morning and just sleeping because they hadn’t eaten over the weekend,” said past President Irving Ouellette. “So we started knocking on doors. Bath Savings was one of the big ones and they stepped up to the plate.”

The program is meant to provide food that students or parents can take home to make meals over the weekend.

“(The purpose is) to make sure that kids have food at home to eat over the weekends, because the schools are providing food during the week,” said Labbe. “We just want to make sure over the weekends that they have some food to eat.”

And now there are more than just those 10 initial kids getting food to eat over the weekend.

“We started out with 10 kids over at Dike-Newell,” said Ouellette, “and last year we hit over 120 (students).”

The program is implemented differently at the different schools, he said. At West Bath School, for instance, Ouellette said produce is laid out for parents to come and pick up when they can. Packages are made up for a few families that the school has identified as having a particular need for the food, he noted. At the middle school, the produce is made available for students to pick up through the pantry, he added.

“We have a team of maybe 60 people that we can draw on,” said Ouellette of the volunteers who unload trucks, sort food, pack bags and transport it to the different schools. “It’s a well-oiled machine.

“Volunteers make it happen, but it’s really the community that decides this is important,” he added, noting the financial support that makes the program possible.

Last school year, the Bath Area BackPack Program experimented with adding fresh produce to the program.

“Irving, who was the past president, reached out to the Good Shepherd Food Bank and started that relationship, and we found that other schools in the state of Maine are also doing the same thing that we’re doing here,” said Labbe. “So we coordinated with the Good Shepherd Food Bank this year to get some produce here to get into the schools.”

Last spring, they launched a pilot program with fresh produce at West Bath Elementary and Bath Middle School.

“The food we’re providing today is healthy,” said Labbe, “but it doesn’t have the nutritional value of the produce we can provide through the Good Shepherd Food Bank.”

With the pilot programs proving successful, the Bath Area BackPack Program has made it a regular feature of their work. Every second Tuesday of the month, close to a dozen volunteers gather at the Knights of Columbus building in Bath, where Good Shepherd Food Bank delivers the food free of charge.

“It comes in on a big pallet, and then we sort the produce,” said Labbe. “We never know what we’re going to get — it’s always a surprise. Last time it was corn, green peppers, onions and summer squash.”

So far, the program has proved successful, with talks of increasing food deliveries.

“We’ve increased it from 350 pounds to 500 pounds,” said Labbe. “So we hope to get a little bit more to the schools, and depending on how this goes we might even try to get a little bit more next time.”

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