Full Plates Awards More Than $100,000 in Innovation Fund Grants

Full Plates Full Potential today announced that they have awarded a total of $104,563 to four organizations in the inaugural round of John T. Woods Innovation Fund grants. Established in memory of the organization’s cofounder, this new grant program supports school districts and community organizations in piloting new and bold strategies that increase participation in, and access to, meal programs for children and youth. The four organizations receiving inaugural grants are Augusta Teen Center, Bath Area Family YMCA, Cultivating Community, and Healthy Communities of the Capital Area.

The grantees, while diverse in their scopes of work, are each working towards innovative solutions to make meals more accessible to Maine kids through projects aimed at addressing unique needs in their own communities. 

Augusta Teen Center’s $30,000 grant will support the build-out of a commercial kitchen space in their new community center in downtown Augusta. Their approach is a holistic one that centers the mental health and wellness of the population they serve with an eye toward mitigating behavioral issues in school and decreasing rates of recidivism among teens. In a truly collaborative project, Augusta Teen Center has partnered with multiple community-based organizations and the Augusta Public Schools to provide referrals to their program and resources to its participants.

“We are excited at how this grant will help in creating a community teaching kitchen in the new space on Water Street in Augusta,” said Charles Huerth, executive director of Augusta Teen Center. “Here we will not only be able to provide thousands of meals each year to area youth and their families but we will also be able to help teens learn healthy eating and cooking habits that will follow each of them into adulthood and beyond. We cannot say enough about how this will help area teens today and into the future.”

Cultivating Community, a Portland-based food justice nonprofit that works in partnership with Portland Public Schools, is building off of the work of Westbrook Public Schools to develop culturally relevant meals with their $26,563 grant. Their goal is to permanently incorporate these meals into the school menu at Portland high schools that are more representative of the diverse student body, mainly first generation students who may rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.

Class of 2022 students Anna Behuniak of Portland High School and Leaticia Hanah of Deering High School shared that they “believe that this grant will create a more welcoming transition for new students by offering a dish in the cafeteria that they may have eaten every day at home. It will also allow students to feel more connected through food and is an opportunity for students to share their cultures”.

Bath Area Family YMCA will invest their $18,000 grant to build a Y Community Garden and greenhouse that will incorporate the use of site-grown produce in their CACFP At-Risk Afterschool and Summer Food Service Program meals. 

“The funding from the John T. Woods Innovation Fund for our small community garden and greenhouse will give children in our community access to more local, healthy foods while increasing equity and providing learning tools for all our youth programs – Pre-K, summer camp, afterschool teen time and more,” said Sabrina Murphy, CEO of the Bath Area Family YMCA. 

Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, the fiscal home of the Maine Farm to School Network, will be using their $30,000 grant to support a new institute that will train school nutrition programs across Maine to sustainably incorporate local foods into their school meals. 

“This John T. Woods Innovation grant will help sustain the Maine Farm and Sea to School Institute as an annual program supporting six Maine school districts per year to reach their local purchasing goals. This program funding benefits students, school nutrition professionals, and food producers across the state—bolstering the local food economy while providing delicious, fresh meals to Maine’s youth,” said Stephanie Cesario-DeBiasi, Maine Farm to School Network Coordinator.

“What we love about all of these projects is the potential to make a long-lasting impact, not only on the immediate communities of these organizations, but on the state of child nutrition across Maine,” Justin Strasburger, Executive Director at Full Plates Full Potential shared. “Each of these grantees developed their proposals based on needs that arose within their communities and incorporated voices from those who are being impacted by these programs. The communities themselves know what they need and we are looking forward to seeing how these bold, new ideas will improve child nutrition across Maine.”

The Fund is supported, in part, by the generous contributions of Hannaford Supermarkets, Maine Credit Unions’ Campaign for Ending Hunger, IDEXX, and the Elias Sharing Fund.

Individuals or companies interested in contributing to the John T. Woods Innovation Fund are invited to contact Rebecca Dill at rdill@fullplates.org to learn more. Child nutrition program providers can learn about the Innovation Fund and other grant opportunities offered by Full Plates Full Potential at fullplates.org/feed-kids-grants

About John T. Woods – Alongside Justin Alfond, Woods cofounded Full Plates Full Potential in 2014 after a decade of leading volunteer efforts to address child hunger in Maine. Having experienced food insecurity during his own childhood, Woods was passionate about connecting Maine kids with reliable access to healthy meals. Guided by a firm belief that child hunger is a solvable issue, he brought a spirit of innovation to the cause. Woods passed away nearly one year ago after a year’s long battle with brain cancer.

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