MECHANIC FALLS – The RSU 16 Summer Meals program held its first meal at Elm Street School on Friday with an 8 a.m. pancake breakfast and a barbecued chicken lunch – plus some fun and games.
"We just wanted to let people know we’re here and to learn more about what we do," said Betty Hayes, RSU 16’s food service director.
During the school year, she makes sure that the school lunch programs in the district’s three towns deliver nutritious meals.
One of the school lunch program’s most important features is the free and reduced-price meals it makes available to children from low-income households who otherwise might not receive proper nutrition – something that becomes problematic come June.
"School may take a break, but hunger doesn’t," Hayes said.
Celebrating the kickoff of this year’s Summer Meals program that bridges the gap, Paula Glatz, director of the Mechanic Falls Summer Rec program operated out of the municipal complex on Lewiston Street, brought her always-hungry crew to the noon chicken barbecue.
"This program is great," she said. "What with the kids playing all day, having a good breakfast and lunch has just been phenomenal for the town’s children."
Three summers ago, Hayes’ duties went year-round when the district tapped into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program that provides free meals to children when school is out for the summer.
"The first summer we were serving 188 children out of the Mechanic Falls site," Hayes said.
Last summer, Hayes said, the program expanded when Gray-New Gloucester opened sites, bringing the average number of children served by RSU 16 to 244.
"This year, Gray has started off on its own and we’ve teamed up with the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative for help with outreach," Hayes said.
Jamie Curley and Alicia Rost, VISTA volunteers working with Preble Street, have assisted RSU 16 in developing a number of sites – including several in Oxford County – where local children ages 2 to 18 will have access to free, nutritious lunches throughout the summer.
Hayes figures the program soon should be serving free lunches to at least 300 children once all of the sites are up and running.
Curley and Rost have been instrumental in recruiting a number of volunteers to assist with the expanding program.
The program remains based at Elm Street School where Randy Plummer, kitchen manager at the school cafeteria during the school year, shows up at 6 a.m. to prepare and pack the food.
Other sites in RSU 16 include the Mechanic Falls Rec program and Poland Rec’s program at Tripp Lake Beach, off Route 11.
Breakfast and lunch are served at Elm Street School and for children in the Mechanic Falls Rec program. Lunch only is served at the Tripp Lake Beach site, as well as at sites in the Oxford Hills region: at Moore Park in South Paris, at West Paris Explorers Day Camp in West Paris, at the Oxford Regency on Skeetfield Road and at the Oxford Town Office in Oxford, and, with a kickoff event from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, July 1, in downtown Norway.
Sites expected to open later this summer include the Food Booth at Crystal Lake Park in Harrison and the Town Beach in Otisfield.