Even in Scarborough, 'hunger doesn't take a vacation'

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SCARBOROUGH — School’s out for summer, but for students in need, hunger doesn’t end when the last school bell rings.

Many public school students who receive free meals or meals at a reduced cost during the school year experience food insecurity during the summer months, meaning they may not know where or when their next meal is coming. 

Local volunteer organizations, like Project GRACE and the Scarborough Kiwanis Club, are doing their part this month to meet the growing need for their neighbors throughout the summer. 

Saturday, June 28, Project GRACE will hold the “Amazing Raise” at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish on Black Point Road, where from 10 a.m.-noon, volunteers will pack 10,000 meals and raise money for the Scarborough Food Pantry. 

Steffi Cox, executive director of Project GRACE, said he hopes the event will be a reminder for residents that they have neighbors in need, especially during the summer months. 

“The living is easy for a lot of us in the summertime, but it’s still quite difficult for many others,” she said in an interview Monday. 

Project GRACE fields 800 calls a year, and donated more than $2,000 in the last fiscal year to 140 Scarborough families struggling for food.

The local Kiwanis club also completed a food drive earlier this month where it collected three minivans full of goods to fill shelves at the pantry. The club also raised more than $700 for the pantry to purchase food from the Good Shepard Food Bank.

The efforts by Kiwanis and Project GRACE to help feed families through the summer were separate, but Kiwanis community service Chairwoman Jackie Perry said there’s “certainly not an overlap, because there’s definitely a need and nothing goes to waste.”

Statistically, children in Scarborough and neighboring communities fare far better in terms of hunger than those of other communities in Maine. An average of 32 percent of students in Cumberland County meet criteria for free and reduced lunch; other counties average around 50 percent, according to the state’s most recent data. 

But for more than 500 children in Scarborough, the need is real. 

The Scarborough Food Pantry, at the First Congregational Church, 167 Black Point Road, services about 200 families a month. But Cox said the pantry sees an uptick of need in the summer. 

The pantry is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m.-noon. But families may only receive a limited amount of food from the pantry, and may only stop in once a month. 

Ellen Parenteau, director of the pantry, said food and monetary donations from organizations like Project GRACE and Kiwanis are “huge,” and the amounts given this month with likely last through the summer. 

“I’d say it makes up two-thirds to three-quarters of what we’re able to give away,” Parenteau estimated. 

Help for hungry children is far from limited to outside organizations.

Judy Campbell, School Department nutrition program director, said the department organizes a summer breakfast and lunch program at the high school for eligible students of all ages. Transportation is not provided, and Campbell said interested families should call and let her staff know ahead of time. 

There are also town community services summer programs that offer eligible kids two meals and an afternoon snack for free or at a reduced cost, as well as scholarships for participation.

Despite the many efforts, Cox believes residents would be surprised to know the food challenges their neighbors face “are as sharp as it is.”

“It’s expensive to put healthy food on the tables, and for some families, they’re just getting by,” Cox said. “Hunger doesn’t take a vacation.”

Families needing assistance from the Scarborough Food Pantry or those interested in helping out this summer should contact Ellen Parenteau at 883-1672.

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.