Officials from the Regional School Unit 10 nutrition program and its supporting partners stand in December beside the new meal delivery van in Rumford. The vehicle is the newest and largest that is being used to feed people in area communities. From left are Toni Reed, June Hostetter and Pam Carter of the school nutrition program, John Beliveau of Friends of River Valley, Justin Strasburger of Full Plates Full Potential, Jeanne LaPointe who directs RSU 10 food services and Leanne Condon who is school district assistant superintendent. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Regional School Unit 10 is expanding its meal delivery program to alleviate hunger and provide food to people quarantined due to COVID-19.

Jeanne LaPointe, food service director for the seven-town district, said she believes RSU 10 is probably only the second of third school district to serve meals outside their school building.

“It’s a little trickier,” she said, because there are a few more rules to follow, to go out to the library or the Greater Rumford Community Center.

“We talked about it pre-COVID, then COVID kind of shut all that down,” she said. With the receipt of a grant they can hire someone to do the driving and the accountability.

“We have many parents who don’t know where their child’s next meal is coming from,” she said. “It’s pretty dire at times.”

The district acquired a second, larger delivery van six months ago, thanks to a partnership with Friends of the River Valley and Full Plates Full Potential.

Advertisement

Friends of the River Valley is a centralized resource for supporting and promoting a range of nutrition, education, health, and social services across the River Valley.

Justin Strasburger, executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, said the group is working to end child food insecurity across the state.

“We’re really focused on long-term systemic change,” he said. “So we’re focused on the child nutrition programs like what’s happening here in the schools, and really trying to strengthen those as much as possible because if those are working really effectively, it’s less of a burden on the social safety net of soup kitchens and food banks.”

The organization partners with other groups to accomplish its goals.

“We’re a small team,” Strasburger said. “We do a lot of advocacy work and try to identify best practices, identify what the barriers are and eliminate it. But the only way we can find out those things is by asking people like Jeanne, who are living this every single day.”

“This is exactly the kind of solution that we’re after — meeting the real tangible needs right now, but in a way that’s going to have a lasting impact,” he said.”

Advertisement

Leanne Condon, assistant superintendent for RSU 10, said the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals “is extremely high. So we have a lot of families living in poverty. And particularly when COVID hit and we got to stay at home, our number one concern was feeding the families.”

LaPointe said during the pandemic emergency declaration they were allowed to feed anyone up to age 18, even if they weren’t enrolled in school.

“Anyone who needed food, we figured out a way to get it to them,” she said. “It’s not as flexible now because we’re not under that pandemic emergency declaration, but if we need to, we can offer up to three days of food at a time.”

The program delivered meals to at least 400 families during the pandemic and through last summer, before it acquired the larger van.

“We had an immense crew driving school vehicles, the van,” Condon said.

They included nutrition staff and buildings and grounds personnel, Lapointe said. “People were stretched but it was really rewarding.”

Advertisement

And with the current surge of the omicron variant, she said, “We still have families who are requesting food now if they’re in quarantine, and we make that happen.”

The district is not delivering meals during school vacations, Lapointe said, but “we may need to look into that as we look into February.”

The Old School Food Pantry at 115 Maine Ave. in Rumford was started recently by the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition, she said. It’s half a mile from Mountain Valley High School.

Personnel with the school district meals program are discussing using the school food van in conjunction with that food pantry.

“We’re talking about bringing the van up on Wednesdays and filling it up with some bags that might need to go out to people who can’t get there,” she said.

Condon said, “Part of the issue is everyone needs to be able to have vacation and take a little bit of time off. So we have vans. We have the food. But we also can’t say to our staff, ‘you don’t have vacation. You have to deliver food.'”

Advertisement

LaPointe recognized volunteers who made deliveries all through the pandemic — Gary Dolloff, Steve LaPointe and the late Bruce Bulger.

“Three people who were born and lived in Rumford all their life,” she said. “Who better to send out on the streets of Rumford to chase people down and give them food?”

John Beliveau of the Friends of the River Valley said the organization is also looking to provide therapy art to children, in collaboration with LaPointe, Miki Skehan, program director of Western Foothills Kids Association, and others.

“We’re going to try to get what’s called an art van,” he said. “It’s out of Bath and they do therapy for kids, using art as a medium for helping kids. They’ve committed to coming up a day a week for a whole year to work with kids.

“We still have to work out the details of where it’s going to be, but one site is likely going to be at the old Virginia school (Western Foothills school) and also an after-school art therapy session for kids at the middle school and Meroby Elementary School,” both in Mexico.

Friends of the River Valley will cover all the expenses, he said.

Advertisement

“We’re really trying to figure out different partnerships with organizations that are serving kids and how the Friends of the River Valley can support those organizations to enhance those services,” he said. They are working with LaPointe, Skehan, Allie Burke, executive director with River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition, and others in the community.

Last spring, after the district was not awarded a grant for one of four, fully-funded vans offered through Hannaford and Full Plates Full Potential, Lapointe said, Full Plates Full Potential gave the district $10,000 and Friends of the River Valley contribute another $10,000.”

Combined with stimulus money, Beliveau said, “We were able to buy the van, the packaging and the shelving — basically replicating what the grant was going to provide.” That was six months ago.

Between the two vehicles, LaPointe said, “If we should go to remote again, it will allow us to use the larger van, which has twice the space of the first van and is “far more efficient.”

RSU 10 includes Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury, Hanover, Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner.

To donate to Friends of the River Valley, go to https://friendsofrivervalley.org/get-involved.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: