Caribou JMG starts food pantry in honor of fallen classmates

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou High School’s Jobs for Maine Graduates students are starting a food pantry in honor of two fallen classmates who would have been in their graduating class this year. The plan was unveiled during a March 3 RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) Board of Education meeting.

The pantry — named the Zach and Kacie Viking Pantry of Hope — is dedicated to Zachary Gagnon, who lost a three-year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 13, and Kacie Haney, who died last year as a result of an automobile accident at age 17.

JMG Master Specialist Valerie Waldemarson introduced her students, who presented the pantry plan, which she said came from a dream her students had and were able to follow through to completion.

Waldemarson said the program’s curriculum is based on five goals — leadership development, career development, social awareness, civic awareness and community service. She said these goals were met through hands-on activities, planning and face-to-face interaction with Caribou residents and members of the local business community.

“At no time did the students ever do a paper and pen type project,” she said. “Every bit of this was hands-on engagement.”

JMG students described to the board the projects they’ve undertaken throughout the year. In addition to the pantry, JMG students participated in the Read Across America program by recording videos of themselves reading books and then publishing those videos online. They also helped organize emergency preparedness kits, which include necessities such as water, flashlights, medical kits, a whistle to help when lost and hand warmers. Students also worked on comfort blankets, which are given to people with a variety of illnesses and ailments.

The food pantry came together to address food insecurity within the city, and while it began as a food drive that received several donations, the students decided to take it one step further and start Caribou High School’s first food pantry, which will offer non-perishable food, clothes and hygiene supplies.

The pantry has already received significant support from local businesses. Burger Boy and Machias Savings each donated $1,000 toward the food pantry.

Burger Boy owner Dustin Mancos said he was inspired to donate as he is a Class of 2010 graduate from Caribou, and also because Kacie Haney once worked for him at Burger Boy.

“Growing up, everything I had for the holidays and Christmas came from donation boxes,” he said. “My mentality in my business is to be who I needed when I was younger, and I pride myself on giving back to the community, especially children. These children are the future of the community and they’re doing something big.”

“Kacie is a former employee, and she was the light of my life, that’s for sure,” Mancos continued. “It left a hole in our crew and our business when Kacie left us.”

J.R. Belanger, branch manager at Machias Savings, said the bank was proud to donate toward the cause, and that they would also be placing a drop box in their branch for additional donations.

“This is a great program,” he said. “I know both of the [Gagnon and Haney] families, and it’s an honor to be a part of this.”

Troy Haney also said during the meeting that he would donate $1,000 to the cause. 

Waldemarson then told the story behind a large check on the floor — an anonymous donation for the pantry in the amount of $5,000.

“The anonymous donor, who likes to be referred to as a caring Caribou alumni, has been an individual who has sought the services of volunteer projects of JMG since I started there,” Waldemarson said. “When she found out that my students were out in the community, she wanted to give the check of $5,000 to my students to maintain this project for the remainder of their senior year. She felt it was important for the kids to know that all of their work has been seen and heard, and that she is now paying it forward for every hour they have given in service to her.”

Zachary’s and Kacie’s mothers expressed gratitude for the decision to establish the food pantry in the names of their children.

Kacie’s mother, Julie Chamberlain, said her daughter would have been honored to be a part of this effort.

“This is my first time seeing Zach’s mom face to face,” she said. “Our situations are a little different, but very much the same. I just know she would have loved this, and I would like to thank all of you for being a big part of who she was. Thank you very much.”

Zachary’s mother, Peggy Gagnon, said these kinds of efforts exemplify “what life is all about.”

“Zach was the epitome of compassion, and those of you that had contact with him know he put aside his own adversity for his desire to help other people,” she said. “When you’re facing the end, people will remember you based on how you made them feel. You could have all the money, the biggest house, the biggest cars, but in the end what truly matters is how we make people feel.”