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Summer Gap Feeding Program embarks on final week of serving families

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — As part of their second and final year of the Summer Gap Feeding Program, United Way of Aroostook partnered with numerous community volunteers and sponsors to fulfill a crucial need for families in the SAD 1 school district.

The week of Aug. 12, Presque Isle High School students began their final year of classes that will include the traditional three-week harvest break. As dictated by a February decision by the SAD 1 school board, the district will eliminate harvest break beginning in fall 2019, meaning that elementary, middle and high school students will all head back to school after Labor Day next year.

Although SAD 1 receives federal funding to offer free lunches Monday through Friday to elementary and middle school students during summer vacation, administrators cannot continue that program after the high school is back in session. That meant the need remained essential for volunteers and donations to provide those meals to the younger students during that gap period between Aug. 13, when the high school opened, and Sept. 4, when the kindergarten through 8th grade students return.

Next year, SAD 1 will have access to the federal funding to serve free lunches throughout the summer until all students begin classes after Labor Day.

“This is our second year of Summer Gap and we’ve realized that the need for a hunger relief program like this is great for a lot of different kids, whether they come from single or two parent homes. Some kids will come with a grandparent or an older sibling or a case manager,” United Way director Sherry Locke said. “We’ve been serving around 150 to 250 meals per day.”

Every weekday since Aug. 13, and through Aug. 31, United Way and community volunteers have come to the Sargent Family Community Center and Birch Street beginning at 11 a.m., Carmichael Street at 11:20 a.m. and the Helen Noreen Apartments at 11:45 a.m. to provide free meals of sandwiches and fruit as well as healthy snacks and goodies to participating children and their families. On Birch and Carmichael Streets, the volunteers have been serving from The Aroostook Medical Center’s Wellness on Wheels Wagon.

This year United Way recruited nearly 30 businesses and nonprofit organizations to serve as day sponsors and $6,500 in cash donations to purchase food. Each day, volunteers from that day’s sponsor or co-sponsors were on hand to serve meals and encourage children to also take home with them free chalk, jump ropes or books. Chops Ahoy Farm in Woodland also donated fresh green beans so that the children could gain greater awareness of the services that local farmers provide to communities.

On Wednesday, Aug. 29, dozens of children showed up at the Sargent Family Community Center to enjoy lunch and have some fun with their new jump ropes. Aroostook County Action Program was that day’s sponsor and four employees from the organization lent their support as volunteers.

“I think the most rewarding part is knowing that these kids are being fed,” said ACAP volunteer Rachelle Roy. “I don’t think any of us realized before how much of a need there was for this type of program.”

Sharon Thibault of Presque Isle has been bringing her 10-year-old son Finn to the community center nearly every day for the past few weeks. They also took advantage of Summer Gap last year and appreciate that the volunteers offer a variety of snacks such as apples, crackers, granola and fruit bars.

“It’s great that they offer food that kids will want to eat but is still healthy,” Thibault said. “And if we miss a day because of Finn’s (summer) soccer practice they’ll have someone bring him a meal, which is really helpful.”

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