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Full Plates Full Potential

Ending child hunger in Maine.

Born of the idea that no child should grow up hungry, Full Plates Full Potential take a collaborative approach to effect lasting change. Through its Fight Hunger Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs, Hannaford has supported this nonprofit organization.

Tell us about Full Plates Full Potential.

Full Plates Full Potential is on a mission to end child hunger in Maine. We do this by partnering with schools and communities, investing in their child nutrition programs like school breakfast and lunch, and afterschool and summer meal programs to help feed kids today while simultaneously advocating to create sustainable systems-change here in Maine and lending our voice to similar efforts nationally.

Full Plates was established in the summer of 2014 when its founders, John Woods and Justin Alfond, coalesced around the idea that Maine could become the first state in the nation in which no child grows up hungry. At the time, Maine had the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in New England. It was an ambitious goal but one that seemed achievable in a state with a small population.

The idea was to identify and remove barriers that kept kids from accessing free meals – only about half of which were reaching the students they were meant for at the time. Once served, these meals are reimbursed by the USDA so the challenge is to open access to these meals for Maine kids.

Full Plates Full Potential is on a mission to end child hunger in Maine.

What sets you apart from other hunger nonprofits in your community?

We think a lot about our place in the larger anti-hunger ecosystem here in Maine. It’s very collaborative work and one organization’s mission inevitably intersects with that of another’s. I’m happy to say that we consider ourselves part of a broad coalition of partners working to end hunger statewide, each working within our own strengths to maximize limited resources while avoiding duplicative efforts.

Full Plates is uniquely focused on sustainable systems change efforts to permanently end childhood hunger in all sixteen counties, through investment and advocacy. We fill the space between the folks on the ground who are administering and utilizing child nutrition programs and those in government who make decisions about how these programs operate. By centering and amplifying the knowledge and experiences of those closest to the problem in ways that those in power can understand, we are able to push for, and achieve, truly transformative change.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.

In the early days of the pandemic, our school nutrition partners identified transportation as a real barrier for getting meals to kids. Kids were learning remotely and schools knew there were kids relying on them for meals. At first they used their buses to distribute meals – instead of picking up kids for school, they were dropping off food. 

But when the schools started to go hybrid, those buses were again transporting kids and were no longer available to deliver meals. Continuing to get meals out into the community to students on the days they were learning from home became a real hurdle. In a rural state like Maine, it’s a hardship for families to make it to a central location to pick up food for their kids – often many miles from home. To connect kids with meals consistently, you need to go where the kids are.

Hannaford awarded us a generous $100,000 grant from its Fuel Kids at School initiative, to address pandemic-related transportation barriers in three diverse communities. We accepted proposals from all over the state of Maine and awarded three brand new School Meal Mobile vans to school districts to deliver meals to children where they live, and now continue to support a dozen satellite summer meal sites and assist in the transportation of meals and food products during the school year.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

So many come to mind. The pandemic really laid bare the issue of food insecurity in our communities and there’s been an outpouring of support and newly gained insight into the problem of hunger and of the organizations working toward solutions. The pandemic amplified our work in ways that would likely have taken many more years to achieve. 

If I had to choose one of Full Plates’ achievements that we’re most proud of, it would have to be the groundbreaking, nation-leading, School Meals for All legislation that we spearheaded. Passed in Maine in 2021 during the final days of the legislative session, and now fully funded as part of Maine’s biennial budget, this legislation makes school meals free for all Maine children regardless of their family’s economic status.

Maine was the first of two states, alongside California who simultaneously passed their own legislation, guaranteeing school meals to all children. Since then, similar efforts have cropped up across the nation with many looking to Maine’s success as a blueprint toward legislation in their own states. We’re happy to live into Maine’s Dirigo! (“I Lead”) motto, sharing our experience to help increase food access for kids across America. 

If I had to choose one of Full Plates’ achievements that we’re most proud of, it would have to be the groundbreaking, nation-leading, School Meals for All legislation that we spearheaded.

What do you want people to know about Full Plates Full Potential?

First, that child hunger exists in every Maine community. Next, solutions are at hand to ensure all Maine kids have ready and reliable access to free, healthy meals. And finally, everyone has something to contribute to make Maine a hunger-free place for all children.

How did you hear about the Hannaford Fight Hunger Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good programs?

Hannaford has been a partner of Full Plates since our inception and introduced both programs to us. We find them to be a tremendously proactive partner – always looking for ways to support the communities that they’re a part of.

How will you use the funds raised from these programs?

Donations made to Full Plates are used to fund solutions that feed kids now and to support our advocacy efforts that lead to the kind of long-term, systemic changes necessary to ensure that all Maine children always have consistent access to nutritious meals.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Like Hannaford, Full Plates is all about local communities – being present in the places where Mainers live, learn/work, and play. Having a partner who cares so deeply for the nourishment of its neighbors is a privilege Full Plates is grateful for every day and one that Maine kids benefit from as they grow to meet their full potential.

Justin Strasberger joined Full Plates Full Potential in 2020 as its first Executive Director.