JT Leonard of the Maine School Administrative District 75 transportation service provides two meals for a parent who stopped by the district’s food pickup site at Bowdoin Central School Wednesday. Behind him carrying a bag of seven lunches and seven breakfasts is Carole Mason. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BATH — Bath-based Regional School Unit 1 will be pausing meal deliveries to students next week, while surrounding school districts plan to continue meal services.

Regional School Unit 1 serves Bath, Phippsburg, Woolwich and Arrowsic and has eight pickup sites open two to three times per week. The district is providing between 400 and 800 meals a day, according to Tim Harkins, the food services director for RSU 1.

Harkins said his staff needed a break and have worked under stressful conditions. He said they would be back up and running April 27, after April vacation ends.

“My goal is to create a program that is manageable and sustainable through the end of the year where we continue to feed kids, target students where there’s definitely a need without creating too much stress and anxiety for my staff and my volunteers,” Harkins said. “Part of the reason why we’re taking the break in April is because we know we’re in it for the long haul.”

Families picking up meals this week from RSU 1 have been handed information about other food sources they can use during April vacation, including the Bath Area Food Bank, the Bath YMCA and the MidCoast Community Alliance.

 

Freeport-based Regional School Unit 5, Maine School Administrative District 75, Brunswick and Lisbon school departments will continue to provide meals next week.

Lisbon School Department served more than 2,400 meals last week, according to Superintendent Richard Green. The school department has seven mobile food sites.

“It’s too critical for our kids right now to not have any access to food,” Green said.

Maine School Administrative District 75 serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham. The district had planned to pause food service during April break, but decided Tuesday to continue to provide the free meals to anyone 18 and younger after school board members raised concerns about halting the service.

“I really want to make sure that we’re removing any barriers for folks getting food, and I hope that we make sure that our families are fed during April vacation as well,” said board member Holly Kopp of Topsham. “We need to make certain that we’re coming together as a community to support everybody.”

Superintendent Shawn Chabot said Tuesday that staff members who have been proving meals will have the week off, except for the nutrition director. The district will depend on 28 volunteers on Tuesday, April 21, and 48 volunteers on Wednesday, April 22, to get the food out.

Chabot said MSAD 75 has already filled all but three of the volunteer slots filled. If more are needed, the district will ask residents for help.

“We’ll find the volunteers,” he said. “We will make it work one way of the other.”

The meals are expected to be fully reimbursed through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, which is allowing schools to feed people 18 and younger while they’re not in school.

Schools aren’t legally required to provide the meals while students aren’t physically in school due to the pandemic, “but I think the district feels obligated but also wants to do it,” Chabot said. “Especially given the current financial crisis. It’s the right thing to do.”

To help keep families home more, the district reduced meal pickups to once a week starting last week. The nutrition staff had made 1,100 meal packages but ran out before some families got food.

This Wednesday, they ramped up the service to 1,500 meals bags. Each bag given to a family includes seven lunches and seven breakfasts.

It’s a service that Catie Meier of Topsham advocated for keeping open to young people during the break. The mother of four, said the program gives her one less thing for her to worry about during the day as she works from home.

“One of the many reasons it has helped my family is it gives kids the same type of connection, a real-life, tangeable connection to something they had while at school,” she said.

Keeping that familiarity and routine and structure is paramount to mental health, she said, “never mind that people are experiencing food insecurity.”

 

Maine School Administrative District 75 made sure they had plenty of bags of seven days worth of food for students at their pickup sites Wednesday. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

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