University of New England freshmen J.R. Nelson, Jack Ferguson and Gregg Wheeler package meals at a community service project at the Pepperell Mill campus in Biddeford on Monday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — The University of New England Class of 2023 will begin classes on Wednesday, but students got a head-start in learning about their local community through a service project on Monday.

Nearly 600 students were bused from the Biddeford campus on Monday to do community service work at locations throughout the city, including Second Congregational Church, Mission Hill Community Garden, local food pantries, McArthur Library, City Theater, local parks, schools and City Hall.

The service event was developed through a partnership between the downtown revitalization organization Heart of Biddeford and UNE to help get students acclimated to and involved in a city that many of them will call home for the next four years, said UNE Public Relations Strategist Chris Rose. Organizers plan to make this an annual event.

“It’s a good way to kick-off the school year,” said J.R. Nelson, a nursing major from Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

A large number of these students – about 250 – were stationed at the Pepperell Mill campus packaging 10,000 meals with the nonprofit organization The Outreach Program.

Matthew Martin, regional manager for The Outreach Program gave students a quick training on the procedure.

The packages of food will be distributed to food pantries in Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach; Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center and Biddeford Primary School.

“(After you’re done,) then 10,000 people get to eat,” Martin said.

Students readied themselves by washing their hands with sanitizing wipes and putting on hair nets – and if necessary beard nets, and gloves. Under the guidance of Martin, they formed groups and worked together in an assembly line.

The incoming freshmen measured rolled oats, dehydrated apples and other ingredients for instant apple cinnamon oatmeal, which were put in labeled bags and then sealed.

University of New England freshmen work as a team to package meals at the Pepperell Mill campus in Biddeford on Monday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

The amount of food packaged on Monday was enough for every child in York County living in food-insecure households to have a meal, said Martin. There are about 7,000 children and about 23,000 people total in the county who often don’t know where their next meal is coming from, he said.

While there was general camaraderie, and some good-natured ribbing, among students, they took the job seriously, and quickly got down to business.

“We’re blessed with the opportunity to go to this school. It’s great to give back to those who are less fortunate, said Jack Ferguson, a communications major from Wilton, Connecticut.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].


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