NORWAY — Local eateries are rolling out special meals this weekend to benefit Maurer Meals, a program supporting college scholarships for public health students.

The annual event, now in its ninth year, engages more than a dozen restaurants across Western Maine to offer specialized menus featuring local and seasonal foods.

A portion of proceeds from the event goes to support the Justin A. Maurer Scholarship Foundation, which provides financial aid to a third- or fourth-year University of Maine at Farmington student enrolled in the community health education program.

Maurer, who graduated with top honors from the health education program in 2004, died in a motorcycle accident less than a year after leaving UMF. 

In the aftermath of their son’s death, his parents, Gary and Jeri Maurer of Leeds, asked the university to help them set up a scholarship.

Thanks to the professors in the UMF program, his son became “intellectually engaged” for the first time in his life, Gary Maurer said. During his years at UMF, Justin developed a passion for local food and its benefit on nutrition, health, the environment and the local economy. 

“He’s the one who led the discussion around the dinner table about how important local food is,” Gary Maurer remembered. “It wasn’t us teaching him, it was him teaching us.”

The Maurers also wanted the endeavor to highlight the importance of eating well and supporting local business. 

Maurer Meals started in 2005 with five restaurants around the Farmington area and has grown to almost 14 restaurants across Western Maine. To date, $18,000 has been raised through the event.

Kim Hamlin, head chef at Cafe Nomad on Norway’s Main Street, is planning an “OctoberFEAST” on Friday evening to celebrate Maurer Meals this year. 

“Promoting food culture” and encouraging customers to source their food locally is an important part of the event and the cafe’s underlying philosophy, Hamlin said.

“My goal is to feed great people great food, and support great people who grow great food,” Hamlin said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.”

For example, she plans to feature comfort foods such as shepard’s pie, squash ravioli — provided by students from the culinary arts program at Oxford Hills Technical School — and poutine, followed with traditional desserts such as apple pie.

Less than a mile from the Cafe, the owners of Norway’s 76 Pleasant Street are also planning special Maurer Meals menu items.

Owner Amy Baker said the upscale restaurant has been participating in the event since it opened three years ago and its values align with the restaurant’s.

With the popularity of the local foods movement rising in Maine and across the nation, Gary Maurer said he has no doubt that Maurer Meals could be successful on a much larger scale.

But the Maurers would prefer to keep the fundraiser small, and depend on the strong backing they receive from a network of restaurants committed to serving delicious food and supporting their communities.

“It’s been quite rewarding to see it in action,” Gary Maurer said. “I’ve always wanted it to be a significant scholarship, and it’s becoming that.”

The OctoberFEAST at Cafe Nomad is from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18. 76 Pleasant Street and the Olde Mill Tavern in Harrison are planning special menu offerings over the weekend. 

For more information and a full list of participating restaurants, go to http://www.maurermeals.com.

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