Bowdoinham Parent Partnership members Sarah McLaughlin (left) and Elaine DeFreitas construct shelves for the new Falcon Pantry. Courtesy of Jennifer Stonebraker

The Bowdoinham Community School will open a free food market for students this fall to battle growing food insecurity and reduce the stigma of asking for assistance.

Bowdoinham Food Pantry Director Jennifer Stonebraker said the new Falcon Pantry, named after the school mascot, will be set up in the school gym foyer and help feed any of the 180 kids in grades K-5 who need help. The pantry will have shelf-stable foods, snacks, personal hygiene products, seasonal gear and clothing, she said.

“This idea was born out of necessity and a recent cut to our programming,” Stonebreaker said. “In early May, we were notified by Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program that they would be eliminating their Backpack and Snack Programs at the end of last school year. For years, they’ve sent biweekly, pre-packaged bags of shelf-stable food, which we distributed along with our own backpacks consisting of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and a whole lot of snacks, to bridge the gap over the weekend when kiddos don’t have access to school meals.”

Stonebraker said the backpack program was very popular last year. At its height, it was helping 19 families and 48 children. She said MCHPP cited free school meals as the main reason they were eliminating the program, now that kids have greater access to food at school, and said the program was becoming too expensive to run. Going forward, she said MCHPP has committed to providing some snacks and shelf-stable items to support the new Falcon Market.

Elaine DeFreitas and Sarah McLaughlin with a finished food pantry shelf. Courtesy of Jennifer Stonebraker

MCHPP representative Alyssa Schoppee said they will continue to work with the Bowdoinham Food Pantry by donating excess inventory but have moved away from the backpack program for “more effective, customized and respectful models.”

According to a study at the University of South Florida, researchers found using backpacks in some schools to distribute food placed a burden on children carrying food home to their families and created an uncomfortable dynamic.


MCHPP operates school-based pantries at the former Coffin School in Brunswick and Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, which are open to families with students in those districts. Schoppee said the pantries are stocked with dry goods, fresh produce, and meat and dairy products.

“The model allows more choice and ensures food for the whole family, and we hope to partner with additional schools to offer this service to their students,” Schoppee said.

The growing need is evidenced by increased foot traffic at the Bowdoinham Food Pantry. In 2019, the Bowdoinham Food Pantry served 84 households consisting of 145 adults and 110 children. Last year, they served 183 households consisting of 329 adults and 180 children — a 117% increase in three years.

Stonebraker said the new Bowdoin elementary school market will open this fall. She said this is a jumping-off point and that the school will need monthly sponsors. For $300 a month, she said they can afford to serve all 180 students.

In addition to parent volunteers, Stonebraker said student involvement will be highly encouraged.

“Our goal is to engage the fourth and fifth graders in this endeavor, having them restock and occasionally ‘staff’ the market to encourage younger students to use its services,” she said. “We are also working on connecting with a few high school students to staff the market each Friday afternoon.”

Bowdoinham Community School Principal Chris Lajoie said the “school market” will be a judgment-free zone.

“What we’re trying to do is normalize and make routine the idea of accessing resources. Almost every family goes through hard times at one point or another,” Lajoie said. “We share in the food pantry’s mission to make healthy food and basic resources available to anyone at any time, without judgment. We are so thankful to the volunteers who are helping make this vision a reality.”

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