FARMINGTON — Enthusiasm ran high Sunday, Nov. 18 as 50 volunteers worked together in the University of Maine at Farmington North Dining Hall to speed-pack 10,000 meals. The enriched macaroni and cheese meals will be distributed to local and regional food pantries.
The event was a collaboration of The Outreach Project, Sustainable Campus Coalition, Greater Franklin Food Council and University of Maine at Farmington.
The Outreach Project brought ingredients, and provided the packaging, equipment and training needed to package the meals. Matthew Martin regional manager for The Outreach Program said the program initially started with Lutherans, Rotarians, and chapters of the United Way hosting events.
“Businesses and campuses are now among the top 10 groups to host food packing events,” Martin said.
“This is the first time UMF has done something like this,” said sustainability coordinator Luke Kellett. “It really is AJ Saulnier’s brainchild. AJ is a go-getter student who said ‘I want to do this’. So, we are doing it.”
Saulnier is involved with the SCC and has worked with The Outreach Project for seven years.
“My church in Connecticut does these events,” said Saulnier. “I had fun doing these in high school. When I came to UMF last year, I brought it up and kept pushing for it.”
The event caught the attention of people who thought it would be worthwhile to spend a few hours volunteering to feed hungry neighbors. Kellet said volunteers represented UMF students and staff, members of the food council, and community members in general.
“We have fifty volunteers here today. That is where I had to cut it off. We could have easily had 100 people sign up,” Kellett said.
Groups of eight gathered at tables and formed an assembly line. They measured and packaged macaroni, soy, and a vitamin enriched cheese blend into plastic bags. Whenever a bag measured out perfectly, that table would give a ‘whoop’ which would be answered by the other volunteers. Each group was sure to let the other groups know how many boxes they had filled as they raced to package 10,000 meals.
Amid shouts of encouragement and competitive teasing were quiet mentions of why those who gathered decided to do so.
UMF student Cole Williams said he volunteered because of struggles he faced growing up. “I come from a low-income family. Often times there would be struggles to eat. No one should be hungry,” he said.
Early education student Michaela Wright said, “I see how much poverty there is around here and I know how hard it is for kids to learn when they are hungry. That’s why I am here.”
“There are so many hungry people out there. You’ve been hungry before. I’ve been hungry before. It’s no fun being hungry,” Farmington resident Jordan Lincoln said.
Kellett said there is a renewed focus on hunger and food insecurity in the community. “We even have hungry students right here on campus. This is a fun and concrete way to make a difference,” he said.
The packaged meals will be distributed to food pantries throughout the broader Franklin County region, including UMF’s Thrifty Beaver Co-op.
Kellett said it cost $2,500 to cover the cost of food and transportation. Organizers began fundraising for the project in October. To donate to the effort, contact Kellett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Fundraising is actually the hardest part,” said Saulnier. “The assembly doesn’t take that long at all.”
The Sustainable Campus Coalition is a group of students, faculty, staff, and community members that promotes environmental sustainability on campus and in the community. The mission of the SCC includes public education, collaborations with the community, environmental planning associated with greenhouse gas emissions, improvement of recycling on campus, encouragement of local food, institutional composting, and sustainable transportation.
The Greater Franklin Food Council is an expansive network of individuals and organizations interested in promoting healthy food systems. It was established after the first Food Summit was convened in 2017. Organizers include the Healthy Community Coalition; United Way of the Tri-Valley Area; mainefoodatlas.org; Rustic Roots Farm; Catholic Charities SEARCH program; and the Care and Share Food Closet. Funding for Growing Roots is provided by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and The Maine Network of Food Councils.
The Outreach Program is a non-profit corporation that organizes food packaging events around the country. With more than 330 million meals packaged to date, the organization’s mission is to provide safe water, food, medical care, and education to those in need, at home and abroad.