Throughout my time within the Legislature, one of many constants has been the settlement that we have to maintain Maine youngsters. Regardless of the place you fall on the political spectrum, each lawmaker in Augusta agrees that our kids need to really feel protected, have sufficient to eat, and have entry to high quality schooling. In the course of the vacation and winter season, I discover myself reflecting on all of the issues we’ve finished lately to make {that a} actuality.

Over the previous two years, we’ve seen simply how crucial your entire faculty expertise is to a baby’s wellbeing, even past their schooling. In Maine, 43% of scholars depend on faculty meals each day, and a staggering one in 5 Maine youngsters experiences meals insecurity. Kids want wholesome, filling meals to succeed in their full potential. In spite of everything, it’s arduous to focus on studying if you’re hungry. All of this implies we have to ensure that the meals our kids eat at school are as wholesome as attainable.

This yr within the State Home, I used to be proud to sponsor profitable laws that helped our colleges buy extra domestically sourced meals. This invoice expanded the present Native Produce Fund to change into the Native Meals Fund. Below earlier legislation, colleges acquired $1 for each $3 spent on domestically grown, contemporary produce, serving to meals funds {dollars} stretch additional and get greens and fruits onto college students’ lunch trays. Now, this can be utilized to cowl protein and minimally processed meals, together with meat and fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese and tofu. After listening to from faculty districts throughout the state, we additionally minimize some crimson tape to make the method simpler. Districts can now purchase native meals by way of the distributors they have already got relationships with as an alternative of solely shopping for straight from farms. This growth is nice information for college kids, faculty budgets and native farmers and meals producers, who now have extra patrons for his or her merchandise — that’s quite a lot of wins throughout!

I used to be additionally proud to vote for a measure sponsored by my colleague Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, which expanded free faculty meals to be out there to all Maine college students, no matter their household’s revenue degree. For some households, they may make simply an excessive amount of cash to qualify totally free meals, however nonetheless have bother placing meals on the desk. Others may need bother filling out paperwork or asking for assist. For college kids, they may really feel stigma from their friends for receiving free meals.

Because of this growth, in addition to the growth of the Maine Meals Fund, each rising Maine pupil can get a free, filling meal each day in school. And we’re already seeing outcomes: Between September and October of this yr, the Division of Training reimbursed 58 faculty diet applications practically $38,000 for native meals purchases, which means greater than $113,000 was spent on native meals in simply two months. By comparability, in your entire 2019-2020 faculty yr, about $38,000 was reimbursed to only 30 faculty districts. Increasingly more of our children are getting wholesome, domestically grown meals, and that’s an exquisite factor to rejoice.

I need to take time as effectively to acknowledge the hardworking cafeteria staff who put together and serve meals to our children. Your care and dedication assist guarantee the scholars in your care can develop, be taught and play. In the course of the pandemic, cafeteria cooks and servers throughout the state stepped up even additional, making ready numerous meals to ship house with households to ensure their college students, and sometimes their college students’ youthful siblings as effectively, may have wholesome meals. For households underneath monetary or psychological stress of the pandemic, this was an enormous assist. I used to be stuffed with such delight in our neighborhood each time I noticed a photograph within the paper or on social media of faculty staff and volunteers coming collectively to ensure Maine youngsters didn’t go hungry throughout this disaster.

I hope you and your loved ones are staying heat, protected and wholesome as winter continues to set in. For those who ever have a query or concern, you’ll be able to all the time attain out to me at [email protected] or name my workplace at 287-1515.

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23, overlaying Sagadahoc County and Dresden.

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