OXFORD — Advocates for a free children’s summer meal program told SAD 17 directors Monday night that they need the school district’s support to ensure the program’s sustainability.

Heather Zimmerman, who coordinates the program for the Maine Hunger Initiative, and others involved in the program outlined the program in hopes that the board might consider sponsoring it.

“It’s important the community gets involved,” she said before the meeting.

The federally funded program provides children healthy meals when school is not in session. The costs are reimbursed by the federal government.

In the Oxford Hills School District, 66 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to information in October from Martha O’Leary, food service director.

With the help of community organizations such as Healthy Oxford Hills and United Way and many others, a successful pilot summer meals program began at five Oxford Hills sites this past summer. The meals were provided by RSU 16, which includes the towns of Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot.

Zimmerman said that because of privacy laws, she is not sure how many Oxford Hills children received the free USDA-certified meals during the seven-week program. She does know that 4,573 meals were served.

“We really relied on this (summer meals program),”  Kendra Bumpus, an Oxford resident and mother of six children, told the directors. “I really think it’s our responsibility that no child in our district goes hungry.”

Kayla Turner, a Colby College student, meal program volunteer and former student in the district, said she has seen firsthand how many hungry children are in the school district.

“Everywhere, I was overwhelmed by the number of kids that received free or reduced lunch. It was a huge eye-opener,” Turner said.

SAD 17 provided free lunches for school-related summer programs held at the Roberts Preserve Farm in Norway and Paris Elementary School in Paris this past summer.

The RSU 16 summer meals program serves children in that district and teamed up with the Maine Hunger Initiative, a branch of Portland’s Preble Street organization.

Zimmerman said the summer meals are reimbursed by the federal government at a higher rate than the school-year meals. Reaching 6 percent of Oxford Hills School District children this past summer, RSU 16 was reimbursed $15,868 for that part of the program, she said.

Sponsors need to be nonprofits, Zimmerman said. Eligible sponsoring organizations include schools, nonprofit residential summer camps, government agencies such as recreation programs and tax-exempt organizations, including faith-based organizations.

School Superintendent Rick Colpitts said after the presentation that he cannot recommend supporting nonacademic-related meals because, in part, the reimbursement does not cover the cost of supplying insurance, for example, for program volunteers.

The reimbursement is submitted monthly, Business Director Cathy Coffey said.

Director Jared Cash said he was concerned that the school district should be looking at the program. “We are about more than what’s inside the school walls,” he said.

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