Some days the line of cars sitting outside Moore Middle School in Portland, Maine seems to stretch ten-cars deep. Other days, they show up one at a time--all of them filled with families needing help with food in the midst of a global epidemic.
Jay Townsend’s face is the first these families typically see when they pull up to this food distribution center, one of 10 set up across the city. Although Townsend’s face is covered with a mask for protection, he does his best to reassure parents and kids who show up here. Many of them facing food insecurity for the first time in their lives.
“I’m not here to judge; I’m here to help,” he said, as he worked to hand out lunches to a mini-van which had just pulled up.
Since the start of the epidemic, Portland Public Schools have served more than 50,000 meals, filling a critical need for families who are now struggling as more parents are finding themselves unemployed.
“The need is getting greater and greater. More people are feeling the pinch,” explained Jane Mclucas, who serves as the Food Service Director for the district.
It’s a scenario playing out across the country, and for Mclucas getting food to families in need has come with unexpected challenges. They’ve learned that some families don’t have access to transportation, prompting the district to add more distribution sites and consider the possibility of delivering free meals to kids at home.
Nearly 78 percent of students here qualify for free or reduced lunch, and that was before COVID-19 rattled the economy of this picturesque coastal town.
“We have to address this need, because no one can learn when they’re hungry,” Mclucas said.
Instead of planning for summer vacation, districts like Portland are looking ahead to June, July and August, as the need for food is likely only going to continue.