Free summer meals help keep children in Milo filled and happy

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MILO — Children in SAD 41 are able to eat breakfast and lunch every weekday when school is in session. In the summer months food insecurity can be more of an issue, but thanks to a collaborative effort between several organizations and volunteers anyone under age 18 can receive a free bag lunch five days a week from 11 to 11:30 a.m. through the summer meals program located at the Derby Community Center.

To celebrate the summer meals program and help spread the word, a “Spike Event” was held during the late morning of Friday, July 21. Milo Town Manager/Police Chief Damien Pickel grilled hot dogs for about a dozen children stopping by, and lunch attendees also enjoyed slices of watermelon, cheese sandwiches, a bag of chips, milk (including chocolate) and an ice cream sandwich for dessert. Children could also color and get their faces painted.

Erin Callaway, Piscataquis Healthy Food for All project coordinator, said summer meal programs are taking place in various towns across the region. She said a similar program is being offered through SAD 41 at the schools in Milo and the free lunches in the Derby section of town were first handed out starting shortly after the end of school and daily food items will be available through Aug. 18.

“During the summer, when kids aren’t in school, a lot of kids don’t have an easy way to get lunch,” Callaway said. She explained many of the Piscataquis County school districts feature a high percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch and “in Milo it’s really high.”

“They are getting fed in the school year, but what about the summer,?” Callaway said. She said Derby is about two miles away from the schools and for elementary-aged children and those younger this is too far to walk or ride their bicycles.

“This neighborhood has a need for its own site,” Callaway said. “It’s been great, we are really thrilled to have been able to pull this off this summer and it has been a great collaborative effort.”

Callaway said food for the July 21 Spike Event was provided by summer meal sponsor the SeDoMoCha School of RSU 68 in Dover-Foxcroft. She said meals throughout the summer have been sponsored by both RSU 68 and SAD 41.

Piscataquis Healthy Food for All, a county-wide initiative funded by the Maine Health Access Foundation to help residents of all ages get better access to healthy items, worked to coordinate volunteer efforts for the summer meals. Derby residents and teens have given of their time to the program as has employees of Camden National Bank and Mayo Regional Hospital Community Outreach and members of the Milo-based Three Rivers Kiwanis Club. Milo’s Girl Scout Troop 40 is also looking to start assisting with the Derby summer meals initiative.

Callaway also thanked Pickel for his dedication and perseverance in getting food to the children each weekday. She also thanked town office staff for assisting program volunteers.

Flyers for the Spike Event were placed around Milo. “That’s a big part of it, making people aware and making them aware of the need,” Callaway said.

She said the children have been telling her how they like the lunches and hope it returns next summer.

“This is more kids than I have seen all week,” Pickel said about the Spike Event. He said some days the number of attendees has been lower “but at the same time you are taking care of three kids.”

The town manager/police chief said during previous years summers meals had been delivered door to door, but having lunch served at Derby Community Center lawn has helped bring children and adults together.

“Hungry kids can’t learn,” Pickel said, saying this carries over to the summer as hunger makes children unhappy and unproductive.

He thanked the summer meal sponsors and volunteers for their help, saying, “We can’t do it without them.”

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
GRILLING FOR THE KIDS — Milo Town Manager/Police Chief Damien Pickel mans the grill during a summer meal program “Spike Event” on Friday, July 21 at the Derby Community Center. Throughout the summer anyone under the age of 18 can stop by from 11-11:30 a.m., five days a week to receive a free lunch.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
SUMMER MEALS IN DERBY — About a dozen young residents of the Derby section of Milo stopped by a summer meals “Spike Event” at the community center on July 21 to enjoy a free hot dog lunch and activities. The program, open to all under the age of 18, is scheduled to run through Aug. 18.

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