Westbrook fifth grader Tyler Emerson sits proudly with a truckload of food he collected for the Middle School food pantry. Courtesy photo

WESTBROOK — Middle schooler Tyler Emerson rounded up numerous donations for the in-house food pantry after learning about food insecurity among some of his classmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Falcon’s Nest pantry at Westbrook Middle School got its start in 2018, providing students with snacks during school days and food for the weekends. New to the school this year as a fifth grader, Tyler became aware of the importance of the pantry during the pandemic.

He figured rounding up more donations was the best way to help out, he said. He set up donation locations around town and personally solicited donations from people he knew. He ended up with a truckload of nonperishable food for the Falcon’s Nest.

“I wanted to give to them because at school they’ve been giving out food to kids who are in need, and it feels good to be helpful in the world,” Tyler said.

Sarah Emerson, Tyler’s mom, said her son’s food drive during October with the help of his martial arts school, Greater Portland School of Jukado, was a result of his concern for his classmates.

“The school gave food to all students when they were remote, so he was asking why, knowing it wasn’t something he needed. We talked about how some students really do need the help and had some good conversations,” she said.

More than 61% of students at the middle school are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

One in every three students in Cumberland County regularly experiences food insecurity, according to The Locker Project, a nonprofit group that runs food programs in schools around the region.

Along with supplying teachers with snacks to offer to their students in need, The Falcon’s Nest provides weekend food for about 50 children. The weekend food packs, which include two breakfasts and two lunches, are discreetly put in students’ lockers. The packs often include toiletries and hygiene products.

Amie Boucher, a parent volunteer who runs the Falcon’s Nest, said she was moved by Tyler’s compassion and expects this won’t be a one-time effort on his part.

“It’s personal for me to have a fifth-grader, brand new to the school, take such an interest in giving back to his school and taking charge,” Boucher said. 

Boucher said Tyler is in the school’s Community Service Club, and that she is “excited about all the opportunities and great things he is going to help with at school.”

The Falcon’s Nest has seen steady donations throughout the pandemic, comparable to last year, Boucher said, although she did not have specific numbers on hand.

“Westbrook is amazing. Support has been phenomenal,” she said. 

While Tyler’s drive is over, there are still some items the pantry could use: cereal, both individual servings and boxes; oatmeal packages; breakfast and granola bars;  fruit, applesauce and pudding cups; snack packs of pretzels, popcorn and Goldfish, microwaveable lunches, such as noodle cups or soup;  and cans of tuna or chicken.

To donate, reach out to Boucher at [email protected] or call the school.

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