Summer meals for hungry kids offered in Oxford Hills

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OXFORD HILLS — The Summer Meals program kicked off this week, but Maisey Griffin, who is spearheading the program, said more monetary and food donations are needed to help run the grassroots program throughout the warmer months.

Griffin of AmeriCorps VISTA and Healthy Oxford Hills gave some background on the program after finishing her rounds to the meal sites during its first day on Monday, June 27.

“The Summer Food Service program is a USDA-funded program that is state administered by the Maine Department of Education,” she said. “Local nonprofits or school districts sponsor meal sites in their county. It is very different for every community. This summer United Way of Oxford County is sponsoring three meal sites in … the Norway/Paris/Oxford area.”

Griffin noted the program serves free meals to those 18 and younger at the meal sites.

“A lot of families rely on school meals to feed their children,” she said. “This is why the program is so important – to supplement that. Hunger increases in the summer.”

There are a number of changes that have occurred for 2016, which is why Griffin said it became a grassroots-run program. For the past couple of years, RSU 16 – which includes Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls – sponsored the meal sites for the Oxford Hills area. She found out in February that RSU 16 would no longer sponsor the Oxford Hills program.

“I approached several nonprofits in the Norway area. I also approached … SAD 17 and none of these places could take on the program,” Griffin said.

That is when the United Way of Oxford County stepped up to make sure kids still were able to eat over the summer.

Last year and in the past, there were six outreach sites sponsored by RSU 16. This year, there are only three, now sponsored by the United Way, due to funding restrictions, Griffin said. They include the Alan Day Community Garden in Norway, Oxford Regency (also know as the Oxford Pines Mobile Home Park) in Oxford and Moore Park in South Paris.

Additionally, there are three meal sites sponsored by SAD 17, which runs its own program.

“We still need funds,” Griffin said. “We do get reimbursed $3.73 for each meal served but we do need the start-up money to help get through until we get reimbursed [later] in the summer.”

She plans to ask local businesses for donations of food to help offset the program’s financial need. And she is looking at harvest time to help supplement the food demand.

“A hope later in the summer is to glean for food as well once harvest season is underway,” Griffin said.

She reported the first day of the Summer Meals program “went really well,” as she had three people volunteering to prepare the meals at the South Paris Baptist Church, along with other volunteers working the three sites and serving meals.

“We served 48 kids today and we expect the numbers to increase over the summer,” Griffin said.

She gave a nod to volunteers already working and local companies that have either sent volunteers and/or donated to the program. Oxford Casino is sponsoring volunteers all summer at Oxford Regency, New Balance is providing volunteers two days a week at the Alan Day Community Garden and the garden’s Youth Leadership program participants are volunteering there as well.

“With the youth leaders, it is beautiful having youth helping youth,” Griffin said.

As for funding for the program, Griffin said the Rotary Club of Oxford Hills donated $500, Oxford Casino donated $500, Kate Herily’s Zumba class in Norway donated $600 for nutrition programs to Healthy Oxford Hills and $500 is being used for the Summer Meals program, and Pam DeCoteau of Paris donated money from her Volunteer Champion Award.

She also has helped Griffin with organizing the program.

“Pam has been helping since the program started years ago and has been a help this year in giving advice since things are so new,” Griffin said.

Even while she is coordinating the current Summer Meals program, Griffin is already looking ahead to next year.

“It is a lot to take on. That’s why planning this summer for next summer is a good idea,” she said. “Next year we plan on opening all of the past sites again.”

The three meal sites not open for 2016 include Pismo Beach in Oxford, the Little Red School House at Norway Lake in Norway and the Progress Center in Norway.

Anyone wanting to volunteer for the Summer Meals program or donate money or food can email Griffin at maiseygriffin@gmail.com.

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United Way meals

Cost: Free

For: 18 and younger

Time: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Dates: Monday-Friday, Monday, June 27-Friday, Aug. 26

Closed: Monday, July 4

Sites: Moore Park, Route 26, South Paris

Alan Day Community Garden, 26 Whitman St., Norway

Oxford Pines Mobile Home Park, Skeetfield Road, Oxford

SAD 17 meals

Cost: Free

For: 18 and younger

Site: Agnes Gray Elementary School, 170 Main St., West Paris

Time: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Dates: Monday-Friday, Friday, June 21-Friday, July 29

Closed: Monday, July 4

Site: Paris Elementary, 4 Hathaway Road, South Paris
Time: 8-9 a.m. and 12-1 p.m.
Dates: Monday, June 20-Friday, July 1, and  Monday, July 11 – Friday, Aug. 5
Site: Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School
Time: 7:30-8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Dates: Monday-Friday, Friday, June 21-Friday, July 29
There are no registration requirements or income restrictions for either program.