I want our kids to be hungry – hungry for knowledge, hungry for sports, the arts, clubs and for play. What I don’t want is for our students to be hungry for regular nutritious meals or to worry about where their food is coming from. Unfortunately, many of our students routinely come to school feeling hungry and the reality is food insecurity is an epidemic in Maine.

Phillip Potenziano is superintendent of Brunswick schools.

Fortunately, there are safety nets. For example, the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program made official in 1946, provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day in public and nonprofit private schools.

“I’d say 60-70% of students in the Brunswick School Department currently participate in the free lunch and breakfast programs,” said Scott Smith, BSD food service director. “I’m happy to report that Maine was among the first states to make – and continues to offer – free breakfast and lunch meals for any and all students.”

Justin Strasburger, executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, says school meals are the most important way to combat food insecurity.

“Maine youth suffer the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England,” Strasburger reports. “Full Plates Full Potential is a state-wide organization that works with schools to maximize access to USDA Child Nutrition Programs by removing logistical and social barriers while also working toward systemic changes that will ultimately ensure that all Maine children have consistent access to nutritious meals.”

Being hungry is much more than being uncomfortable. There are endless studies showing that chronic hunger affects students’ learning abilities, logical reasoning, memory and concentration. In short, the brain requires energy to function properly. Food provides that fuel, and without adequate energy, students may fall asleep in school or lack the ability to pay attention.


At BSD, we are working hard to combat food insecurity. In addition to offering free lunches and breakfasts to any student, we created “breakfast after the bell” in our elementary schools. Grab-and-go breakfasts are prepared and ready at several locations in the schools where students can pick them up. They can eat before the bell rings or during the first class period, meaning they don’t have to get to school earlier or miss time in the classroom in order to take advantage of the program.

We also host a food pantry that is open one day a week at Coffin School. It’s managed by Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and is open to anyone in the community, no questions asked.

There’s no easy fix for food insecurity, but there are ways you can help. Local food banks are always happy to have food donations, but they may also need help collecting, sorting or distributing food. They might also need help with projects like grant writing, web design and data entry.

Local churches, shelters and health clinics may offer ways to volunteer at food drives. Change X, a nonprofit based in Ireland but with programs operating in the U.S., offers a step-by-step guide on how to create your own community fridge, a central location where neighbors take or leave unopened food as needed. Visit changex.org/us/communityfridge to learn more.

Here in Brunswick, the school department is working to alleviate school nutrition debt for families in our community. Prior to the pandemic, families in the Brunswick community had accumulated $7,000 in debt from unpaid lunch bills, and thanks to the new School Meals for All legislation, there won’t be any new lunch debt incurred. We would like to relieve the stress from those families and take care of the payment for them. This is where we need your help. We’re looking to not only fundraise for the $7,000 owed to the school nutrition program, but we would also like to keep the fundraising going and provide milk for all students throughout the remainder of the school year.

To donate or learn more, please visit givebutter.com/foodservicerelief.

Kids should be hungry for the knowledge they get at school; I hope we can work together to eliminate the other kind of hunger.

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