While Waldo County school districts are providing a free breakfast and lunch for all students, district nutrition directors say food distribution programs offering packaged food for pickup are under-utilized. All children, regardless of whether they are enrolled in school, are eligible for the programs.

RSU 3

Tina Fabian, nutrition director at Regional School Unit 3, which serves approximately 1,082 students, including 240 fully remote learners, said only about 25 meals are picked up by families districtwide on either of two distribution days. She is not sure word is getting out about the free food program at the schools, and that the food is still available.

“I think families don’t realize students do not have to be enrolled at the school to receive this benefit,” Fabian said. The food distribution program is available not only to district and homeschooled students, but to any child 18 or younger who is facing food insecurity.

According to Charles Brown, RSU 3 superintendent, the district currently has 184 students registered as homeschooled, all of whom are eligible to receive food from the program.

Currently distribution is by pickup only, available at any of the schools in the district. Pickup days are Tuesday and Thursday between 9:30 and 10 a.m., and Fabian asks that people sign up by either calling the school secretary where they wish to pick up, or by contacting her directly at 568-4607.

To apply, call Monroe Elementary, 525-3504; Morse Memorial Elementary in Brooks, 722-3636; Mount View Complex, 568-3255; Troy Elementary, 948-2280; Unity School, 948-6136; or Walker Elementary in Liberty, 589-4208.

Parents only have to sign up once, she said, and if they don’t show up district staff reach out to them. “We’ll do anything we can to accommodate the families,” she said.

“If we have families that are struggling at home,” she said, “we encourage them to reach out to us. We also have a food pantry at the school as well.”

RSU 3, in collaboration with Good Shepherd Food Pantry, hosts a monthly food distribution event at Mount View High School where any community member is welcome to take home a bag full of food.

The event usually occurs on the first Friday of the month from 9 to 11 a.m. For more information, visit RSU 3 School Nutrition Program on Facebook. Besides fruits and vegetables, last month’s event dispensed spaghetti sauce, pasta, sausage, ground turkey, canned vegetables, peanut butter and milk.

RSU 20

Regional School Unit 20 Nutrition Director Tina Cook said they are currently distributing seven days' worth of bulk food to all 28 fully remote students at Searsport District Middle/High School. The district serves approximately 413 students.

The food is picked up Wednesdays between 10 and 10:40 a.m. and parents must fill out an online form available on the RSU 20 website by the previous Friday to participate in the program.

Cook said 13 students also come and pick up two days' worth of food at a time. Each package contains all required components, she added, including fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.

Besides the bulk distribution, all children in RSU 20 who are 18 years or younger are eligible for the free breakfast and lunch program. According to Jayne Bowler, administrative assistant for RSU 20, there are currently 43 students registered as homeschooled in the Searsport-Stockton Springs area.

Cook said she has not heard about food insecurity issues in her district and attributes this to programs in Searsport that fill gaps where the school food distribution program leaves off.

“I think it’s because we have the Kindness Program who covers dinners and snack times to families and then we also have the HUSH program (Help Us Stop Hunger) who sends home food in backpacks for students,” she said.

RSU 20 is currently on a green/yellow designation, which signifies an elevated risk of COVID-19 under which the Department of Education recommends a hybrid form of learning, Cook said. “If we shift to red (which translates to remote learning only), we will be delivering food twice a week to families, providing seven days' worth of food.”

RSU 71

Perley Martin, nutrition director for Regional School Unit 71, which serves approximately 1,401 students, said his district is currently servicing children 18 or younger with free breakfast and lunch.

“They don’t have to be enrolled at the school,” he said.  “Parents can come to any school within the district, whichever is most convenient, and pick up a box with three days' worth of food.”

Martin echoed Fabian, saying the number of meals given distributed is very low compared to the number of children enrolled. He feels the challenge may be having transportation to get to the schools.

RSU 71 currently has 1,186 in-person students, 215 fully remote learners, and 139 registered as homeschooled, and all are eligible to take part in the food pickup program.

Martin said currently meals are available only through pickup, but added that if the district shifts to a full remote learning model, a food distribution delivery program will kick into action, with bus routes already set up.

The district has made robocalls to alert parents to sign up for this service. Martin said many families have signed up in the event the school does shift to remote learning.

All schools in RSU 71 are participating in the food distribution program and Martin encourages parents to contact the school most convenient to them, and talk with the principal or secretary about signing up for the program. Orders must be placed between 8 and 11 a.m. the day before the request.

To order, call Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, 342-5100; Belfast Area High School, 338-1790; Capt. Albert Stevens School in Belfast, 338-3510; East Belfast Elementary School, 338-4420; Kermit Nickerson Elementary School in Swanville, 338-1858; Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, 338-3320; or Gladys Weymouth Elementary School in Morrill, 342-5300. Contact Martin directly at 338-3320, ext. 307, with any questions.

According to the RSU 71 website, when ordering meals, the caller must identify the student’s name, and the day and time the package will be picked up. Families may order up to three days of meals at a time.

Meal pickup times include: elementary schools from 9 to 10 a.m. to pick up Grab and Go breakfast and/or lunch; middle school or high school from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. to pick up Grab and Go breakfast and/or lunch.

“I don’t think it can be said enough,” Martin said of informing parents throughout the district that this program is available. “We’re not seeing a really good response from parents picking the food up.”