RSU 56 school psychologist Jessica Swan, left, packages meals with Dirigo High School Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Jess McGreevy at Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield. Buses deliver the food to the homes of students. Submitted photo

DIXFIELD — Jess McGreevy, the assistant principal and athletic director for Dirigo High School, has taken on a new role to help others feed families in Regional School Unit 56 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Teachers, administrators and volunteers are preparing and packaging meals in the Dirigo Middle School cafeteria for delivery to children. McGreevy and others work in staggered shifts from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We are trying to keep those (food preparation and delivery) systems separate,” McGreevy said. That way, if someone on either of the crews were to get sick with COVID-19, other crew members would not become contaminated, she said.

Gena Cloutier, RSU 56 nutrition director, said she and her staff are feeding 383 students breakfast and lunch, seven days a week, making 5,362 meals a week.

RSU 56 Nutrition Director Gena Cloutier holds a tray of food that will be packaged and delivered to students. Submitted photo.

“In the beginning, it was very stressful,” Cloutier said. “We had all the (staff) working in one kitchen and trying to work out the kinks but actually now it’s like a fine oiled machine, everybody seems to know (what to do).”

Families who don’t have meals delivered to their homes can pick them up at school from noon to 1:30 p.m., Cloutier said.

Earl Couture, an educational technician at Dirigo Middle School, is working with local food pantries to help feed families in the area who may not have school-age children and don’t qualify for food from the school district.

Couture and other volunteers are working from a food pantry set up in the school music room and partnering with Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, Servant’s Heart Food Pantry of the Peru Baptist Church, the Dixfield Food Pantry of the Dixfield Common Baptist Church and the Canton Food Pantry. His group is sending out food to 76 families in the district towns of Canton, Carthage, Peru and Dixfield.

From the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the school pantry receives produce. The pantry is “getting a lot of bread and nonperishable stuff” from the Servant’s Heart Food Pantry, he said.

“And the Dixfield Common Baptist Church, they’ve been with us since the beginning and they give us everything that they can as in nonperishables,” he said, including pounds and pounds of rice and peanut butter, breakfast cereals.”

“Last week we had lettuce, and some cabbage or some premade meals like macaroni and cheese,” Couture said. “This past week we probably sent out 25 to 30 pounds of food per family. It’s usually around 15 to 20 pounds of food.”

Referrals for families come from school bus drivers or Dixfield police.

Natalie Putman, kitchen manager of the Dirigo Elementary School in Peru, prepares meals at Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield. Buses deliver them to students’ homes. Submitted photo

Kelly Porter, an educational technician at Dirigo High School in Dixfield, helps plan and prepare foods from the pantries for delivery. She also set up a food pantry at Dirigo High School before the pandemic closed schools in March.

“You can tell when you watch kids, you listen to kids, (that they are food insecure) you just observe them,” she said.

“The thing with the food pantry is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one of our students or one of our staff; if somebody needs help, it’s there to help,” she said. “No questions asked, we’re not there to judge, we want to make life a little easier, especially during these harder times.”

Kenny Robbins, director of Buildings, Grounds and Transportation, and Terri Cox, transportation administrative assistant, planned the current 11 bus and van runs for food delivery to students.

“As the restrictions became more stringent, we had to find ways to get the food to the students with minimum contact,” Cox said, so to avoid families gathering at certain locations to get meals buses were used to deliver them.

“These students got their food immediately and it’s just amazing how well it’s gone,” Robbins said.

He and Cox said the RSU 56 nutrition staff, volunteers, bus drivers, administrators and teachers deserve special recognition for their dedicated work.

“Everybody has been involved and has just done a phenomenal job, I think,” Cox said.

Bianca Hunt, Adult Education student at Region 9 School of Applied Technology, packages meals at Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield. RSU 56 has been delivering meals to students for nearly two months since schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted photo.

Ruthie Lovelace, the mother of Dirigo Middle School student Isaiah Michael Lovelace, agrees.

She said she’s grateful for the school lunch staff, teachers and Principal Jason Long the help she and her son have received getting meals her autistic will eat and setting up his online learning program at home.

“It was really stressful and I was really getting some anxiety and panic attacks in the beginning,” Lovelace said. “They’ve all made it easy for us and I am just so grateful for who God has put in my life.”


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