April 5, 2019

Programs work to stop hunger in RSU14

By Matt Pascarella

The Maine Hunger Initiative website states Maine is ranked seventh worst for food insecurity, or hunger, in the nation and that food insecurity affects 16.4% of households in Maine. Those are terrible facts. Now, here’s some good news: there is a program right here in Windham that is working to combat those numbers.

Jeanne Reilly, Ryan Roderick, Marge Govoni
The Backpack Program runs the length of the school year and supplies food to grades kindergarten through fifth grade. It doesn’t supply actual backpacks, but rather a bag of food that can go home with a child when they need it.

The program serves Raymond Elementary, Windham Primary School and Manchester School. Program director Marge Govoni, Chef Ryan Roderick and Director of School Nutrition, Jeanne Reilly as well as a group of dedicated volunteers help make this program the success that it is.

Hannaford had put the program in other schools and approached the district about the possibility of putting it in place in Windham. Early on, there were some funding issues, so Govoni visited Windham Weaponry and asked them for their support. What started out as a program that supported 50 students was able to grow to a program that supported over 150 students because of the generosity of the employees there along with support from the community. Govoni stressed that the unselfishness from the public and local businesses has been great. “If you’re going to [donate] you feel better when it’s to something right in your own community,” she says.

The donations are put into plastic bags donated by Hannaford, and the bags are then put into totes which are delivered to the schools, usually packed two to three weeks at a time. Since variety is important, especially in food, the schedule of which foods a student gets alternates from week to week.

Ryan Roderick, the new chef for the district, took the position January 1, 2019. He is responsible for working with all the kitchens in the district. Roderick’s job is one of many different hats; the backpack program being one of the hats. He is responsible for quality control and consistency across the schools; “We do a lot of other fun activities...like going into health classes and educating about the food world,” he added.

Roderick has prior experience working in restaurants and in hospitality. He started into school nutrition as a kitchen manager and “I began finding joy in feeding our future. Working with kids is really enjoyable, the mission and the goal of creating a healthier future for our kids and for our country was really appealing, so when this opportunity [the chef position] came up...it was the logical next choice.”

“And the kids love him!” Govoni exclaims.

Apart from the Backpack Program there is also the Village Fund which is meant to help those families who do not qualify for free or reduced meals and who may be just a few pennies over the qualification threshold.

The Village Fund stems from the knowledge and daily awareness that there are families in the community who, although they may not qualify for reduced or free meals, still struggle to provide their children with a well-balanced and nutritious breakfast and lunch. These children can come to school without having breakfast and/or without a lunch. “It is our mission to feed [these children]” remarked Reilly. “To provide them with a meal, regardless of their ability to pay. Free and reduced meals are available for families throughout the school year; families just need to fill out a yearly application to make sure they qualify.”

They encourage every family to fill out an application at the beginning of the school year. And at any time during the school year, when they have a change in economic status, loss of job hours, etc. Reilly, her co-workers and volunteers are aware that a family’s budget can change at any time for any reason.

As a team, they are each very passionate about making sure kids eat.

“We believe that healthy, nutritious food is a basic human right and that no child should go through the school day hungry,” reiterates Reilly. 

Windham’s Modern Woodmen of America will be holding a fundraiser from now until April 27. It will be closed at the Travis James Humphrey Music with a Mission Concert at North Windham Union Church where all proceeds will benefit the Backpack program. Modern Woodmen will match donations up to $500!

To mail any donations, you can send them to: 

Hannah McFarland MWA
909 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, Maine 04062     
If you would like to donate to the Backpack Program:
Checks may be made payable to RSU #14; please note “Backpack Program” in memo.
Please send donations to:
ATTN: Ryan Roderick
RSU #14
228 Windham Center Road
Windham, ME 04062

If you would like to donate to the Village Fund:
Monetary donations can be sent to:
The Village Fund
c/o Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program
228 Windham Center Road
Windham, ME 04062

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