Community food pantry set up at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Contributed

The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program has opened a community food pantry at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham to get more food in the hands of hungry children and their families.

The school has partnered with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program for many years through the school backpack program, where free groceries were offered to families to help feed students when they’re home for the weekend. However, late last year, these backpack sites switched to a school pantry model to provide families with a wider variety of foods, including fresh produce.

The community food pantry opened at the school on Sept. 27.

Megan Hayes Teague, the school’s principal, said during the pandemic, the district offered a community meals program distributed out of Mt. Ararat Middle School, with funding from the federal government, which many families used.

“From my office, I was able to see just how many families were taking advantage of the program, and I began to worry about what would happen to those families when that funding ran out,” said Teague. Teague reached out to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program in May to see if they would use the school premises to set up a food pantry.

“As luck would have it, they were in the process of moving away from the backpack model to a school-based pantry model, and they were excited to partner with us,” said Teague.

More than 80,000 Maine children to qualify for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program, of which more than 2,500 are eligible in the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program’s service area. More than 50,000 children in Maine are food insecure, according to Good Shepard Food Bank of Maine.

According to 2020 U.S. Census, about 10.9% of Maine’s population lived below the poverty line in 2019.

“Food security is a real concern in Maine,” said Teague. “We know that students learn the best when they have food in their bellies, and so we are always concerned about access.”

The pantry is set up in a large room near the school’s front entrance, formerly the nurse’s office.

Shelf-stable items, produce, dairy, meat and hygiene products are available at the pantry.

The pantry is open to any family in Maine School Administrative District 75 with a child 18 or under. The food will be provided to the whole family and not just children. The food is free, and no proof of food stamps is required, said Haley Dolloff, youth services coordinator.

As a COVID-19 precautionary measure, the food will be distributed in a drive-thru system.

 


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