The Star-Herald

Giving tree made of cereal will help feed County kids

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Staff at Aroostook County Action Program are collecting boxes of cereal that will form the Community Giving Tree at the St. Apollonia Dental Clinic’s Festival of Trees, slated Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, in an effort to help feed local children this winter.

New this year, ACAP invites the public to drop off cereal donations at any of its nine locations throughout The County, or bring donations directly to the festival.  

This is ACAP’s third year of participating in the festival, both to raise awareness of hunger in Aroostook County and to distribute the cereal to children and families through their early care and education centers and Community Cupboards in Presque Isle and Houlton.  

“Food insecurity is a very real issue in our communities,” said Jason Parent, ACAP executive director. “The Community Cupboards that started in Aroostook County at our Main Street Presque Isle and Military Street Houlton facilities, and have since popped up in towns across the region, are helping people meet their immediate food needs when other resources are not accessible or available.”

Parent said, “The cereal collected during this annual drive helps stock the shelves of these cupboards, many of which are located outside, during the cold winter months when other food products would freeze.”

ACAP staff hold an internal cereal drive, using hundreds of boxes of nutrient-fortified cereal to construct a large “tree” display at the Northern Maine Community College gym in Presque Isle, where the festival takes place. Children from ACAP’s early care and education centers make decorations for the “tree.”  

While most of the trees at the festival invite participants to place tickets in buckets for a chance to win the display, the Community Giving Tree has a unique twist. Participants place tickets in the bucket not to win the tree, but to add to it: Local grocers will match the number of tickets collected with additional boxes of cereal.

ACAP Family Coach Heidi Rackliffe first spearheaded the project three years ago. The inaugural year far exceeded expectations. Star City, Hillside and Mars Hill IGAs had pledged to match up to 250 tickets with cereal boxes. They ended up with nearly 1,200 tickets. That prompted the organizers to invite all Aroostook County grocers to pledge a donation the following year, and several grocers from Fort Kent to Houlton responded.  

“Our Community Giving Tree is an opportunity to start a conversation about hunger and express empathy and compassion for others at a difficult time of year,” said Rackliffe. “I watched parents come by our display with their children and read the sign we placed in front of it explaining the tree’s purpose and then those kids placed one or more of their valuable tickets in our bucket. Watching young children make a conscious choice to help others just warms my heart.”

This year, Shannon Hill, of ACAP’s Energy and Housing staff, is coordinating the Community Giving Tree project, and she wanted to give the public even more of an opportunity to express their support by inviting them to drop off cereal donations at ACAP locations.

“The idea is to feed even more people by making this year’s cereal tree bigger than ever before,” said Hill. “The more cereal we collect, the more people benefit.”

To donate, visit any ACAP location, the Festival of Trees or contact Shannon Hill at 764-3721 for information.  

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