OLD ORCHARD BEACH — School was out this summer, but it was still a busy time for the Regional School Unit 23 food service staff, which served more than 7,000 meals through its Summer Meals Program.

The Summer Meals program, which is implemented through the USDA and administered on the state level, provides free breakfast and lunch to children up to age 18 during late June through mid August. All children are eligible to participate, and meals must be consumed on site.

Food sites are located near where children typically work and play, such as schools, libraries, apartment complexes and parks, according to a press release from the USDA.

Nationwide statistics for the program are not available yet for this year, but in 2018 the program provided more than 145 million snacks and meals to children when school was not in session.

And while many meals were served in 2018, there were still many families who were unaware of the program, according to the USDA. Nationally, the USDA has offered tools to increase awareness of the program, including an online meal site finder and a toll-free phone number to find answers about nearby meal sites.

This was true locally, as well, as school departments like RSU 23, which serves schools in Old Orchard Beach, promoted the program in various ways including Facebook and reaching out to local media sources.

RSU 23 saw an upsurge in meals served this year from last, according to data provided by RSU 23 Food and Nutrition Services Director Caroline Trinder.

Meals followed federal nutritional guidelines and included a protein source, a grain, a fruit, a vegetable and low-fat milk.

Trinder and her staff created meals that were not only nutritious but kid -friendly, and a typical meal might be a turkey Italian sandwich, fresh cucumbers with dip, fresh watermelon and milk.

“It’s not nutrition unless they eat it,” she said.

Trinder and her staff were in charge of providing breakfast and lunch five days a week from June 24 to Aug. 16 to sites in Old Orchard Beach and Saco.

Superintendent of School John Suttie said at a recent school board meeting that Trinder and her staff did “a wonderful job” and praised their abilities for taking on the additional sites in Saco.

This summer, the RSU 23 food service department served 7,014 meals, with 5,004 of those meals served in Old Orchard Beach. In 2018, the RSU 23 food service department provided meals for just Old Orchard Beach, serving 4,562 meals.

“My staff was phenomenal,” said Trinder.

A grant from non-profit Full Plates, Full Potential was used to provide coolers to transport food to the Saco sites, and buy fresh produce.

“We served fresh fruits and vegetables every day,” said Trinder.

Trinder also partnered with Meals on Wheels to deliver meals in Saco.

“If it wasn’t for them there’s no way kids in Saco would have gotten meals,” she said.

Many of the meals prepared for distribution at Loranger Memorial School went to children participating in the summer recreation program. The Libby Memorial Library, another lunch site in Old Orchard Beach, boosted interest in the summer meal program by providing activities.

“We were happy with the numbers and hope for even more next year,” said Trinder.

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

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