Maine’s summer meals program mixes together food, learning and fun to create one tasty summer!

For Maine, the state with the fifth highest rate of hunger in the nation, Summer Meals continues to be a vital program for youth. Each year the program evolves and improves, with community partners working to increase access to this nationally under-utilized program. In Maine only 17.5 percent of children are accessing summer meals.

To start off the summer in Cumberland County, Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative VISTAs Jen Grobe and Emily Loker supported meal sponsors to plan kick-off events in Gray, New Gloucester and Westbrook. These celebrations brought awareness and excitement to the program, with delicious food, nutrition education, face painting and fun games.

In July, summer meals partners turned up the heat-coordinating additional activities at the sites, such as arts and crafts and visits from local fire departments. Meanwhile Emily and Jen hit the ground running and distributed hundreds of flyers to food pantries and other community partners and canvassed dozens of neighborhoods and mobile home parks to help spread the word. Emily and Jen also helped to distribute more than 1,000 Scholastic books donated by Volunteers of America.

Maine’s rural communities and sparse public transportation continued to challenge partners’ abilities to get kids to meals sites. Still, with all of its beautiful town beaches and parks, it’s a good place to be a kid! Because of these characteristics, meal sponsors and previous VISTAs have worked hard to open meal sites in places where kids already gather in the summertime, a proven best practice for the state.

To show volunteers how important they are and to strengthen relationships amongst volunteers, sponsors ended the summer with volunteer celebrations. Included in the events were surveys of the volunteers, certificates of appreciation and of course, food!

Although it is time for the kids to go back to school, summer is never over for partners working on the summer meals program. VISTAs Emily and Jen will continue researching new site locations, reaching out to potential volunteers, and planning an activity calendar for next summer.