INDIAN ISLAND, Maine — Fresh fruit salad and grilled hot dogs were on the after-school menu Friday at the Indian Island Boys and Girls Club. About two dozen children filed through a line to load up their plates, chowed down at gleaming formica-topped tables, then scampered out into the echoing gymnasium to play a noisy game.
Seven-year-old Bem Galipeau said he comes every afternoon after school. He’s partial to the fruit salad, he said, taking an extra spoonful of the strawberry-melon-grape combination.
“And I like to play around with the toys,” he said, ”especially the soccer balls and the dodge balls.”
It was just another autumn afternoon for the children, but behind the scenes, kitchen coordinator Marria Brown was beaming.
“I’m in heaven,” she said. Her job just got a whole lot easier, since the Boys and Girls Club became the first after-school program in Maine to be awarded a special $20,000 grant from the Auburn-based Good Shepherd Food-Bank.
The money has been used to purchase major appliances for the Boys and Girls Club kitchen: a gleaming stainless-steel commercial gas range with six burners, two ovens, a grill and a broiler; a cavernous upright freezer; a refrigerator and a dishwasher, all brand-new and ready to serve the more than 210 children who belong to the Boys and Girls Club.
“The stove we had before this was terrible,” Brown said. “It was a gas stove, and sometimes it wouldn’t light and all you could smell was the gas. This one is gas, too — but this one works.”
Jason Hall of the Good Shepherd Food-Bank was in the kitchen to celebrate the appliance upgrade. He explained that, thanks to generous Maine donors and a joint fundraising effort by Shaw’s Supermarkets and the New England Patriots, Good Shepherd has awarded three $20,000 grants this year through its statewide program, Feeding Maine Youth. The grants were based on demonstrated financial need and other criteria.
Before the end of December, community programs serving children in Lewiston and Westbrook also will boast new appliances, dishware, tables and even some weatherization projects to better meet the needs of the low-income populations they serve. In 2010, three more programs will be similarly helped, Hall said — including, possibly, one in Bangor.
Carla Fearon, executive director of the Indian Island Boys and Girls Club, said the grant will help the club take advantage of good deals as it buys in bulk from the local Good Shepherd pantry in Brewer. The relationship between the two agencies has been in place since the Boys and Girls Club was established in 2000. Now, in addition to serving children from the island a nutritious snack every afternoon after school, the program serves lunch all through the summer and hosts community events throughout the year.
In addition, children benefit from weekly nutrition education programs, get help with their homework, and participate in supervised games and activities.
But the food is what keeps many kids coming back.
“Without the partnership with the food bank, this program wouldn’t exist,” Fearon said.