A volunteer smiles through the crowd of others helping to pack meal kits for the Meals for Maine event

UNE volunteers pack 50,000 meals for Mainers facing hunger

The meal kits will be distributed to people and communities facing hunger across the state, including older adults and refugee families

Over 200 volunteers from the University of New England community came together in the spirit of service on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to assemble 50,000 nonperishable meal kits for underserved communities across Maine.

The event, dubbed “Meals for Maine,” was held as part of national Sept. 11 Day of Service and Remembrance events held across the country in memory of the 9/11 terror attacks. UNE was one of just 10 schools nationwide to receive funding to support the initiative from the 9/11 National Day of Service organization, The Pack Shack’s “Feed the Funnel” Grant Program, AmeriCorps, and MyGoodDeed.

The massive effort highlighted UNE’s role in addressing the pervasive issue of food insecurity, which is a health concern for many across the state. Maine is ranked first in New England and sixth in the nation for citizens facing food insecurity.

The event also sought to inspire students and others to make a difference in their communities in support of the University’s mission to improve the health of people and communities, said Trisha Mason, M.A., director of the Office of Service-Learning in the Westbrook College of Health Professions, noting that the meals assembled will be distributed across Maine with a focus on reaching older adults, children, immigrant and refugee families, and other vulnerable groups.

“With a proven track record of service, our students, faculty, professional staff, and community partners represented Maine and UNE prominently on a national stage by being part of the Meals for Maine initiative,” Mason remarked. “I am proud and humbled by the great work done on Sept. 12, and I know that the positive impact will be far reaching. This is an excellent example of how our students are doing their part to better the health of communities across Maine.”

Ethan Williams and Trisha Mason

Ethan Williams and Trisha Mason

UNE faculty pack meals at the Meals for Maine event
A group of students pack rice and beans for the Meals for Maine event
UNE President James Herbert smiles while helping pack meals at the Meals for Maine event
A young volunteer joins the crowd in packing meal kits
Two students pose for a photo while packing meals

Ethan Williams, MBA, assistant director of student life for UNE’s Portland Campus for the Health Sciences, said student volunteers hailed from every one of the campus’s academic programs.

“This shows that all of our students recognize the impact that food insecurity has on their future patients and clients,” he said. “I am so grateful to our UNE community and volunteers for coming out in full force to support this event.”

As a learning opportunity for UNE’s health professions students, “Meals for Maine” featured online educational programming. Additionally, Mason hopes to host the event annually, “putting UNE at the forefront of tackling food insecurity from a public health perspective” and supporting the state’s legislative action to end hunger in Maine by 2030.

Sara Rea (Pharm.D., ’27)

Sara Rea

“Service-learning is far more than an extracurricular activity — it’s an opportunity to be empowered by the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of those facing any type of adversity,” remarked Sara Rea (Pharm.D., ’27), who completed a similar meal-packing project in high school. “No matter where you are in the world, where you come from, or who you have by your side, you can truly be the difference you want to see.”

Akua Obeng (D.P.T., ’24) said the event was nothing short of inspiring.

“Although I have not witnessed the direct impact that the food packages would have on Maine communities facing food insecurity, I felt a sense of appreciation knowing that each meal packed by my peers and I would positively impact these underserved communities across Maine,” she said. “It was inspiring to experience and observe the camaraderie, collaboration, and excitement between the community partners, faculty, staff, and students who had come together to address food insecurity in Maine.”

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