Yarmouth student earns national award for summer lunch program

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YARMOUTH — High school senior Kathleen Waeldner is the recipient of a national volunteerism award for her work leading the Lunch Crunch program, which keeps kids busy and fed during the summer.

The 18-year-old is one of Maine’s top two state 2017 honorees in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The award recognizes grade 5-12 students for outstanding volunteer work.

This year marks the 22nd year of the community service award. Prudential Financial partners with the National Association of Secondary School Principals to make the award. 

Waeldner is the daughter of Town Councilor Rob Waeldner and his wife, Brigid.

In May, she and a parent will travel to Washington, D.C., for four days of programs and sightseeing events. The all-expenses paid trip is one part of the state honoree award. Waeldner will also receive $1,000 and an engraved silver medallion. 

Waeldner said watching documentary video clips highlighting the problem of hunger in America, especially among children, spurred her volunteerism. She began packing weekend lunches for low-income youngsters helped by Yarmouth Community Services.  

Still, she wondered what happened to kids during the summer when school was out and cafeteria lunches were not being served. And then she answered her own question.

Lunch Crunch, a summer lunch program designed to meet this need, was formed about two summers ago under nonprofit Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors, or YCAN.

“Katie has stepped up and led that program,”Yarmouth Community Services Director Karyn MacNeill said.

She recruited classmates to volunteer with the Lunch Crunch program over the last two summers.

“I’m good at taking the initiative, and I didn’t really realize that,” said Waeldner, who is deciding where she will attend college next year.

She’s considering a career in public health or medicine, and plans to pass down leadership of the Lunch Crunch program to younger Yarmouth High students.

MacNeill said the program brings a deeper sense of community to Yarmouth and allows YHS volunteers to form bonds with the participants. “Lunch Crunch helps to solve food insecurity, social interaction, healthy relationships, and physical activity during the summer months,” she said.

Volunteer participation at, or donating to, Lunch Crunch and YCS is also welcome.

Lynn Hynes, Lunch Crunch volunteer coordinator and a YCAN board member, said, “There are numerous ways to help this program. Although we have some regular early morning shifts preparing food, there are other opportunities to help transport foods from one location to another, serve meals at the program site, or assemble weekend food bags.” 

YCS can be reached at 846-2406 or by email at kmacneill@yarmouth.me.us.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or lconnell@theforecaster.net. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

Lunch Crunch volunteer program leader Katie Waeldner, left, and fellow volunteer Gretchen Barbera, with two of the Yarmouth summer program’s participants.

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