Summer meals program takes College values to local communities

Alyssa with sandwiches

Saint Joseph’s commitment to local communities is embodied by the College’s participation in a local summer meals program.

Three years ago, the College partnered with the Maine Hunger Initiative and Portland’s Preble Street community center in order to participate in a federally funded program that supplies free lunch to children during the summer months. The summer meals program is an extension of the free or reduced lunch program available during the school year, and feeds all qualifying children below the age of 19.

This summer, Saint Joseph’s supplied nine sites with meals. The sites were located in areas where 50 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced school lunch. This summer, close to 6,000 meals were served to the children of these communities.

“Saint Joseph’s has always been about reaching out to the community,” says Stuart Leckie, the general manager of Pearson's Café, Saint Joseph’s own food service. “Part of the mission of the College is helping others, and this program is a good fit.”

Leckie, along with Amy Russell, the coordinator of Catherine’s Cupboard and a member of Saint Joseph’s Mercy Center staff, played an integral part in implementing the summer meals program. This involved meetings with different state officials and agencies, as well as searching for areas to set up sites and finding volunteers to run them. These efforts have produced remarkable changes in the communities.

“There is an Avesta Housing development for the elderly in Windham,” Russell says. “Previously, their property had no trespassing signs on it because they live in a bad part of town. We opened a site there last year, and after the site ended the members of that community had the participating families over for trick or treating and invited them to a Christmas party. We were able to bridge the gap between the two neighborhoods, and this year they were one of most productive sites – they fed the most kids.”

The summer meals program has also had a positive effect on Pearson's Café employees. Charlie Morton and Alyssa Dolan, two staff members who have been involved with the program since the beginning, have become more enthusiastic about their jobs after interacting with the children.

“Before this year, I had never served meals myself,” says Morton. “Rather than just waking up early, making meals and dropping them off, I got to see the other side of it. I got to see and meet the people I was helping. It was a good feeling.”

The importance of this program is prevalent in the minds of all those involved.

“Everyone needs to eat. It’s a right, not a privilege,” says Dolan. “This program allows people to eat who otherwise may not be able to.”

Leckie and Russell both have plans to expand the summer lunch program in the years to come. One option is to open a site at a school where a warm meal can be made and served. Another is to push the importance of signing up students for the free lunch during the year so more areas can qualify for a site. Either way, the summer meals program will continue to grow and change both Saint Joseph’s and the surrounding community for the better.