Auburn City Councilor Tim McLeod carries a box of bread from the Italian Bakery Friday afternoon that he was delivering to the Auburn Senior Community Center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — When it first rolled out in March, volunteers and staff at the Auburn Senior Community Center thought they might hand out a few dozen meals.

But, the “Grab ‘N Go” program established to help families stay fed during the coronavirus pandemic has been distributing between 150 and 200 meals a day.

Sabrina Best, director of the Auburn Recreation Department, which has taken the lead on organizing the program, said Friday that the city would not be able to serve as many people without its stream of volunteers lending a hand.

Some are spending long hours cooking and preparing food, while others are securing food donations from local businesses or the Good Shepherd Food Bank, and packaging meals.

Shawn Boyd from Auburn’s PAL Center, who has been coordinating food donations and loaning out kitchen equipment to the senior center, was unable to speak with the Sun Journal on Friday because he was still in the middle of packaging and distributing meals to PAL Center families. That was after the Friday pick-up hours at the senior center.

But, Best said he’s been a centerpiece of the program.

“Without Shawn we wouldn’t be able to provide close to 200 individuals two meals each pick-up day,” Best said. “He loves his community and helping others and for that we are all very grateful he was able to work on this program and help make it as successful as it has been.”

Zach Boyd hands Cynthia Morgan of Auburn meals to-go at the Auburn Senior Community Center in March. Morgan, a social worker for the Auburn School Department, picked up meals for three families. “There are a lot of families that need this,” she said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The “Grab N Go” program is distributing meals Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., but the core volunteers are at the senior center most of the week.

Tracey Levesque, wife of Mayor Jason Levesque, has been one of those people, volunteering almost a 40-hour week. Levesque, like others, was surprised by the demand in the community.

“We’re making a lot of meals, and none of them are going to waste,” she said Friday just after the afternoon pick-up.

She’s been working seven- or eight-hour days to prepare and cook food, and five to six hours on pick-up days.

The to-go bags most often consist of two pre-cooked meals per person with sides like salad, rolls, fruit and cookies.

Those interested in the program must enroll either by phone or online, and on pick-up days, runners with clipboards bring meals out to cars, check off the names, and load them up.

Volunteers have also been delivering meals directly to homes of people who either can’t go out or are not comfortable doing so.

Levesque said those handling food have been consistent in order to cut down on the number of people going in and out of the senior center.

“Shawn is a huge contributor, and Sabrina spearheads the numbers,” she said. “The number of meals has just ballooned since the beginning.”

The program began in mid-March when the coronavirus outbreak caused mass cancellations of events and restaurant closures, including planned St. Patrick’s Day events.

Staff from the Auburn Recreation Department, Mayor Levesque and volunteers reached out to those local restaurants and, as a result, the “Grab ‘N Go” meal program was born.

Funding for the program came from a “Feeding Auburn” micro-grants program that the Auburn City Council voted to redistribute during the crisis. Officials have said the micro-grants program will be funded in next year’s budget.

When the Auburn PAL Center, which runs an after-school and food program for youth, closed its doors last month due to the coronavirus, Best said she coordinated with Boyd to make sure families that have relied on PAL Center food would still be able to.

“Shawn was basically already doing this style of program for his families year round and, in an effort to avoid competing for the same resources, we combined to be efficient with our resources, time, and effort,” she said.

The PAL Center has provided kitchen equipment, storage space, and other resources Best said have been “critical” to getting the program off the ground. After Boyd helps hand out meals at the senior center, he takes what’s left to hand out to families in the PAL Center neighborhood.

There’s also been plenty of others helping behind-the-scenes to keep it running.

Councilor Tim MacLeod has been acquiring food donations, including picking up fresh bread and other goods from the Italian Bakery and dropping them at the senior center.

Then there’s Kimbre Varney, who was brought in at the start of the program to prepare meals in crockpots. While the volume of meals eclipsed the ability to make all the meals in crockpots, Varney still provides 100 servings of crockpot meals twice a week.

“It has been amazing to see everyone come together to help people in our community,” she said Friday.

According to the Recreation Department website, “Grab ‘N Go” orders must be placed by noon the day before pick-up. The curbside pick-up location is the bus stop in front of Hasty Community Center.

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.


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