JAY — Volunteers are hoping to provide 100 students in Regional School Unit 73 with enough food to last them through February vacation.

Judy Diaz of Jay got the idea after she saw on Facebook a friend filling backpacks with food in Scarborough.

“It all mushroomed from there,” she said. Diaz helped organize the February Vacation Food Bags program, with support from businesses and the community. She estimates 100 students will each receive two large bags of food to get them through the nine days when schools will be closed from Feb. 13 to 21.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, what we’re tapping,” Diaz said. “It’s my little way of donating.”

Students at Spruce Mountain middle and high schools will have bags of food delivered to their homes for vacation week also, according to Diaz. Social workers and nurses are volunteering their time to make the deliveries, she said.

Fifty-one percent of students in Regional School Unit 73 get free or reduced-price meals. The number is greatest at Livermore Elementary School with 62 percent. At Jay Elementary School it’s 51 percent; the middle school, 53 percent; and the high school, 40 percent.

Numbers at the middle and high schools may be lower than they should be, Diaz said. “When kids get there, they feel embarrassed and don’t want to call attention to themselves,” she said.

Diaz is not only helping feed students when schools are closed, but she is helping provide food when schools are in session. While shopping at Marden’s in Rumford she saw a display of Pop-Tarts and thought of those who have difficulty focusing on their schoolwork because they are hungry.

“I bought a lot,” Diaz said. Thirty-two boxes.

The tarts would be easy for school nurses and secretaries to give to hungry children, she said.

“Teachers buy a lot of food (for their students) and they don’t get a lot of credit for it,” she said.

If students are hungry, they can ask the nurse or secretary for something to eat.

“If the large number of boxes I brought in goes in a week, we’ll know the need is there. It will get the elephant in the room discussed,” she said.

Diaz wants people who have fallen on tough times to know services are available and the community is supportive.

“If there are hungry kids out there, I want them to know there’s food out there for them. We need to establish trust with them,” Diaz said.

There is also a grass-roots effort to get a food pantry and free store established in the Jay area, she said. At least eight people are meeting to talk about those projects.

“I don’t know when or how but it will probably come together,” she said.

Livermore Elementary School has a food pantry where students can fill a backpack with food items to take home for evening or weekend meals. A monthly produce giveaway program at the school is also making a difference.

A group of teachers and community members are exploring ways to offer similar programs in Jay.

There is a need for more than food. Diaz said that after a friend’s husband saw students without hats, mittens or jackets waiting for the school bus in the cold, another post on Facebook suggested starting a scarves project similar to those seen in Portland and other major cities.

Diaz said scarves, mittens, boots, jackets and other donated winter wear may be left at Bessey Designs on Main Street in Livermore Falls. Anyone in need may get them.

“It’s just been all positive. It really exceeded my expectations of what the community support would be,” Diaz said of the response to her efforts. She said she is looking for feedback on what kids want.

“I’m trying to meet those needs,” she said.

She received word of the need, and the February Vacation Food Bags is her priority now. Later, she and others will spend more time on the idea of a food pantry and free store in the Jay area. Diaz hopes to find someone with time to write grants to meet everyone’s wish list.

Depending on the feedback she receives from the vacation project, Diaz imagines doing something similar for the April vacation.

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