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PPS & Wayside Partner to Aid Hungry Families

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PPS & Wayside Partner to Aid Hungry Families
Posted on 12/02/2020
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Portland Public Schools has been partnering with Wayside Food Programs to deliver free meal boxes each Wednesday to families experiencing food insecurity during the crisis.

The partnership began in March and ran through the summer. After a brief hiatus in early fall, it resumed again in November. Currently, 235 PPS families are now receiving the boxes weekly.

Community volunteers go to Wayside, pick up the boxes and deliver them directly to the families. Volunteers have come from area businesses and community organizations that include L.L. Bean, Cumberland County Food Security Network, Maiz Restaurant and Welcoming The Stranger.

“The volunteers are the backbone of the distribution program,” said PPS School Community Coordinator Naila Wissa, who is coordinating the meal box delivery program. “We have over 75 volunteers and several community agencies represented.”

Portland Public Schools staff members have been instrumental in the success of the program. It was initiated by school social workers in March and Wissa took over leadership in the summer. Other PPS staff members also have volunteered.

Mary Zwolinski, executive director of Wayside Food Programs, said, “It has been an honor to work together to ensure that students and their families have access to the healthy foods they need to thrive.“

She said that a strong connection between Wayside and the district enabled this program to get off the ground quickly in March.

“Thanks to the partnership Wayside has had with Portland Public Schools over the years through our Community Meal Program and Kids’ Healthy Snacks Program, when the pandemic hit Maine in March, we already had the groundwork laid to be able to collaborate and jump into action,” Zwolinski said. “Since then, we have seen our partnership solidify and expand to share grocery staples weekly with hundreds of families.”

She praised Portland Public Schools staff for their efforts to ensure the needs of students and their families are met. “We are in awe and inspired each day by the staff’s dedication to the well-being of our youngest community members,” she said.

Regular weekly pick up and delivery of food boxes is on Wednesdays between 12  noon and 1:30 p.m. at Wayside at 135 Walton Street. The next pick-up and delivery dates are Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 23.

For more information, contact School Community Coordinator Naila Wissa at [email protected]

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced school meals.
Wayside Food Box photo 5 Wayside Food Box photo2