LEWISTON — On the lower level of Lewiston High School is The Store Next Door, a food pantry/supply closet/kitchen table for students without homes.

There’s heartache and tears — but also joy and laughter.

On a recent Friday as the 1:59 p.m. bell rang, ending another week, students broke into smiles as they danced during their 10-minute dance party. It’s a weekly tradition.

The Store Next Door provides basic needs — school supplies, tutoring, encouragement, understanding and friendship.

“We get kids to put down roots to the point that we are family, and this is the kitchen table,” Seaman said of the table where students eat.

Fiston Mubalama, now a Central Maine Community College student, said the program helped him graduate from high school.


“It’s not a program,” he said. “It’s like a family. It’s like my house.”

This year, the number of students in The Store Next Door program has grown. So has support from the community, as if people are wrapping their arms around homeless students.

Homeless education liaison Mary Seaman said help from within the high school community includes ceramic students in Jody Dube’s class selling “LHS Cares” mugs at the school store. The mugs sold out, raising $1,300 for The Store Next Door.

Staff and students pulled tags off a gifting tree in the main office to buy gifts for needy students.

Another Lewiston High teacher held a homeless awareness event in November and a drive to provide students with movie tickets, Seaman said.

“We have a young man earning his Eagle Scout doing a (fundraising) project with us,” she said.


Martel Elementary School pupils held a penny drive and delivered a check for $100.

Bates College held a fundraising drive for the program, Seaman said, and “we just got a check in the mail from a Lewiston day care.” 

A social services office adopted The Store Next Door for Christmas. So did Clover Health, an insurance company and the Sixth Street Church in Auburn.

Bilodeau Insurance and Mac’s Grill held fundraisers to provide coats for students. A woman made up 35 holiday stockings in what she called “Operation Stocking.” A group of knitters called “We Care Maine” sent fingerless mittens.

A Lewiston teacher’s church, St. Michael’s in Auburn, provided Christmas baskets.

Seaman said they’re grateful for the support, much of it unsolicited.


“This stuff just happens,” she said.

The high school’s The Store Next Door was created in 2006. Federal law requires every school to have a homeless liaison. Lewiston has two. 

A few days before Christmas, shelves were full of school supplies, food, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and tampons. By late January or early February, the shelves will be bare, Seaman said.

This year, more students have shown up needing help. Last year, an average of 37 kids needed services on a given day; this year, it’s 59. During the year, the program will serve up to 300 students.

The increase is attributed to the higher mobility of students, more families without housing because of financial pressures, fewer available rentals and a greater awareness of The Store Next Door.

Some students live in New Beginnings shelters or temporary housing. Some live with families; others can’t live with their parents because it’s not safe.


Students couch surf or live doubled up in apartments. They stay in motels, sleep in motor vehicles or abandoned buildings.

“You might have eight kids sharing an apartment,” Seaman said. “One gets a Social Security check. Somebody else might have a part-time job. The other two or three are going down the street to sell plasma.”

On a recent morning, a student walked into The Store Next Door asking for a snack.

“In the middle of class? Negatory,” Seaman said. “But since you’re here, grab one anyway.”

He picked out a Pop Tart.

As he headed back to class, Seaman said, “Go do well.”


The student’s family has lost housing. To stay together, the family of seven is living in an out-of-town shelter. A federal program to keep homeless students in school helps provide transportation to those who have to live outside the district.

Often, when a family loses housing, “the family explodes,” Seaman said. “A kid goes here, another kid goes there. We’re honoring this family staying as an intact unit.”

The student had only joined the program recently. 

“Already, he comes down here for study support,” she said.

Initially, some students don’t trust.

“Life teaches these kids not to put down roots: Do not allow yourself to care for anybody else, because it’s going to go away,” Seaman said.

To counter that, she’ll provoke laughter by wearing “the pink thing,” an outdated, hot-pink bonnet her late mother was going to throw out.

“When the kids see how silly we are, they know we’re OK,” Seaman said. “If you’re not laughing, you’re crying — and we cry every single day.”


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