Full Plates teams up with JMG on student-led collaboration

As food insecurity continues to rise in Maine, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) and Full Plates Full Potential (FPFP) are excited to announce a new student-led collaboration focused on increasing awareness of student hunger, and ensuring that every Maine child is able to access school meals. Prior to the pandemic, more than 43% of all public school students in the state depended on school meal programs to combat hunger.

“Food insecurity among students in Maine has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. Upwards of 100,000 Maine kids aren’t getting enough food at home,” said Justin Strasburger, executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, a coalition of community leaders and advocates working to end childhood hunger in Maine. “That is a huge number, and too many of them either don’t know about the meal programs available at their schools or, for one reason or another, are unable to access them. By teaming up with JMG, we hope to reach those students and break down the barriers that are preventing them from participating in these meal programs.”

JMG is the only statewide private nonprofit in Maine providing a continuum of support to students from grades six through post-secondary education. JMG partners with over 100 schools from as far south as Sanford to as far north as Fort Kent, making it the ideal partner to help tackle the issue of food insecurity in our schools. The initiative will start as a pilot project this fall in ten schools, with JMG students taking a lead role.

“The students, and their JMG Specialists, will be responsible for identifying issues that contribute to food insecurity in their individual schools and working toward solutions,” said Craig Larrabee, president and CEO of JMG. “Whether that means increasing awareness of the meal programs, or taking a look at potential stigmas associated with school meals, it’s critical that we address these problems.”

Under the leadership of Senate President Troy Jackson, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, and Assistant Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, the Maine Legislature recently passed what is widely considered the most significant piece of legislation in its history to address child hunger in Maine. The School Meals for All law ensures that all Maine students have access to school meals without charge. While this is a monumental step toward food equity for children, cost is but one obstacle that can keep kids from accessing the meals they need to grow up strong and healthy. Much work remains including reducing stigma around school meals – a key focus of the JMG/FPFP collaboration.

“As I’ve said many times over the past few weeks, no child should go hungry at school or spend time worrying about where their next meal will come from. With this law, we are taking a huge step forward towards ending childhood hunger in Maine,” said President Jackson. “While I am proud to sponsor this bill, this was a team effort that could not have happened without the strong advocacy and support from Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG), Full Plates Full Potential and so many others. I’m so grateful to the JMG students who showed up to testify in support of the bill at the public hearing and I am confident that their new partnership with Full Plates Full Potential will build on the strength of this law and ensure our students get the support they deserve.”

Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau co-sponsored the legislation. “Growing up food insecure, I understand the stress kids and their families feel when they don’t have access to nutritious foods. Maine is leading the nation in eliminating barriers to school meals, reducing stigma and ensuring success for all students. The fact that Maine’s network of JMG students is going to contribute to this effort means so much.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot helped lead the passage of the law. “We all know that it is hard to concentrate or get something done when you are hungry or have not eaten,” Pouliot said. “Thanks to this initiative kids will have meals, schools will not have to collect money, students and families will not have to worry about having money for meals at school, and all students have had equal access to meals and proper nutrition making sure they are ready to learn. At the same time, JMG is among the most effective educational organizations in Maine, so their involvement in this partnership really assures it will be successful.”

Critical to this partnership is the financial support coming from Maine’s business community including Bank of America and Central Maine Power. “Through donations and volunteering, Central Maine Power has supported Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) for years and more recently we have partnered with Full Plates Full Potential,” said Scott Mahoney, CMP Interim President. “CMP is excited to continue our support of these organizations by using shareholder dollars to invest in this student-led project that empowers student voices in the effort to end student hunger in Maine.”

The school districts involved in the pilot include Sanford, Windham, Lisbon, RSU 3, RSU 9, Skowhegan, Bangor, Brewer, Machias, and Calais. JMG is a statewide, private nonprofit working with students who face barriers to education. JMG provides more than 10,000 students a year with the skills and experience they will need to graduate from high school, attain post-secondary credentials, and pursue meaningful careers. JMG graduates become engaging members of their communities, productive adults in the workforce, and contributors to Maine’s economy.

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