In a Small Island in Maine, Heroes Serve School Meals

Deer Isle-Stonington is a small island off the shores of Maine connected to the mainland only by a narrow suspension bridge. For generations, the community has relied on lobstering and seafaring as the main source of income.

Sheila Nevells, food service coordinator for the local elementary school and high school, comes from a long line of Deer Isle residents. She is proud of her close-knit community.

“When push comes to shove, everybody comes together to help their neighbors out,” she said.

The last few years have been difficult for the small island community. The pandemic disrupted the lobster industry and families continue to struggle with the high cost of living caused by the remoteness of the island. Sometimes they have to drive over 40 miles to reach the closest supermarket.

Nevells explained that members of the community support each other to get groceries and ensure everybody is taken care of. But, like in many communities in America, some parents experience challenges with alcoholism and substance abuse with extended family members stepping in to help their kids. In this close-knit community people take care of each other through these challenges.

 “A person in my community adopted her grandchildren due to [their parents’] drug addiction,” Nevells shared. “Her grandchildren were hungry all the time. They are not hungry now because their nana makes sure they have plenty to eat.”

Nobody is immune from these challenges.

“My own grandson has been adopted by his step-mother,” Nevells added. “His family is wonderful. He goes to school here… And they let me have him anytime I want.”

Nevells and her team make sure kids get the three meals a day they need to thrive. Their program also works with local partners to ensure kids continue receiving meals in the summer and during holiday breaks. They also provide meals for a small group of children aged three to five that participate in the Head Start program.

Nevells is proud of the difference she is making in kids' lives.

“It makes me feel good,” she explained. “I don’t wanna see them go to bed hungry. I don’t want their bellies growling. I like to hear that ‘so and so was so focused today because he is not hungry and worried about his belly rumbling.’”

The current supply and staffing shortages are even more difficult in this remote Maine community. Nevells and her team have had to adapt multiple times, sometimes having to change recipes at the last minute. Knowing that so many kids depend on Deer Isle-Stonington school meals keeps them going. 

“There's been many, many jobs that I've had in my life that I've never felt as rewarding as this,” shared Nevells. “I know that I'm making that difference, and seeing the kids' smiles on their faces when they come through the line…makes me happy.”

Thanks to No Kid Hungry’s partner Full Plates Full Potential, the district has purchased equipment, packaging materials and supplemented their staff. Nevells describes it as a lifesaver. 

“All these grants and opportunities have helped so much. I want people to take advantage of them” she said. “Please keep donating. I mean, it really makes a huge, huge difference to these kids. I'm only a small island, but… these grants have helped us so much.”

As our conversation with Nevells was ending, her grandson came to talk to her. He then ran to the lunchroom. He knows his Nana is there to give him that school meal that will help him thrive.

In Maine, No Kid Hungry partners with Full Plates Full Potential to ensure that all kids have access to the nutrition they need to learn and thrive by expanding access to child nutrition programs like school breakfast, afterschool meals, and summer meals.