1 Donations in Saco filling up the food shed with ready-made meals, pantry items, snacks. and clothing. Courtesy photo

SACO — Like many school districts during the pandemic, consistent food supply for students was supported by local nonprofit organizations. Youth Full Maine was among one of the critical partners for several school districts and their support continues to grow as food insecurity among families in our communities heightens. The Biddeford, Dayton and Saco communities are fortunate to utilize Youth Full Maine for weekly food distributions, support in school food pantries and the BackPack Program. The three districts continue to identify a direct correlation between food insecurity and students’ ability to succeed academically if their basic nutrition needs are not met.

Youth Full Maine (YFM) was founded in York County in 2019 with the mission to provide nourishing food for students in need in large part to make sure students can succeed in school. YFM’s first school food pantry was opened at the Jameson Elementary School in Old Orchard Beach, and quickly each Biddeford school was added as word spread of their programming. “The amount of empathy the superintendent’s office and the staff have for their students and the eagerness to open their doors to us to come in and collaborate in making the best circumstances for the students has been breathtaking,” said Katie Brown, the executive director of Youth Full Maine.

“We know from experience that kids who are food-insecure and who often experience hunger at home will turn up in school knowing they can receive one or more full meals there,” Brown said. “And even getting a simple snack from somebody at the school can help a student stay focused in class long enough to get through it and learn that day,” added Leinani Farnsworth, YFM’s Food Programs coordinator.

“We were grateful when Youth Full Maine approached Biddeford Schools in 2019 to pilot their nonprofitcorganization in York County,” said Jeremy Ray, superintendent of schools. “Mirrored after the Locker Project, we were impressed with their substantial impact on youth and their families in Cumberland County. We felt this strong and collaborative community partnership with Youth Full Maine was well-positioned to supplement the existing Backpack Program and limit food insecurity among our students so they could be successful in their learning. To see the pilot expand into Saco and Dayton Schools is crucial to the success of students across all three districts.”

Students come to school to be safe and educated; part of that education is reliant on their day-to-day nutrition. In Saco schools, the nurses’ offices are stocked with snacks, and students in need receive “Break Bags” with activities and food to assist them over long vacation weeks. The Biddeford School District has a food pantry in each of their schools along with the BackPack Program providing consistent meals in the evening or on weekends. Thanks to Youth Full Maine’s network of partnerships, all three school districts are able to provide supplemental food resources for our students and their families.

At the start of the pandemic when all of the schools closed, Youth Full Maine quickly switched their daily operations and began conducting community-wide, drive-by free food distributions at several school sites in York County, hoping to still get needed food into the homes of students. They have since broadened their mission to include all children and adults who are food-insecure, and continue the community distributions as the schools have also opened up again. Their biggest is their monthly third
Wednesdays at Rotary Park in Biddeford, 10 a.m. to noon. All are welcome from any community to drive through and pick up dry goods and produce, and sometimes meats and dairy.