TOWNSEND -- Students in the North Middlesex Regional High School service learning program are setting out to warm both hearts and stomachs next year.
Beginning in January, the students will offer one free hot meal a month in the North Middlesex cafeteria to anyone in need.
Service learning adviser Ray Kane said the idea spawned from a speaker he and a group of students saw at a conference in Washington, D.C. over a year ago.
The speaker, he said, called the school cafeteria one of the most wasted resources in any community, because it is closed on nights, weekends and summers.
"We were batting around ideas and saying this makes sense, the whole resource here could be used more efficiently," he said.
Armed with a $1,000 grant from the United Way Youth Venture, Kane and his students will be opening the community kitchen on Jan. 15. The program will be held on the third Wednesday of each month from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
His hope is that each month, a different school group will prepare and serve the meals, beginning with the service learning group in January. The entire program is student led.
"Ultimately, we hope that it becomes a place where people can come judgment-free and are able to get a free hot meal, whether it be senior citizens or anybody else. There are not going to be any checks for should this person be here or not," Kane said.
Kane said that food service provider, Whitson's, was supportive in getting the program off the ground, and will be providing a staff member to ensure that the food is properly prepared.
Although he is not yet sure how much it will cost to administer the program, he said his students are seeking alternate sources of funding to supplement the original grant.
"We're constantly looking for funding services. What we have is a finite amount but that's not something we're going to let hold us back. We want to have a commitment," Kane said.
The program will also work with the community garden program at North Middlesex, in which students grow organic produce and donate it to local food pantries. Some of the food will eventually be used in the community kitchen program, Kane said.
By running the program, the students hope to address a need for healthy, high quality food for those in the community who might not have it.
"There's clearly a level of food insecurity that exists everywhere. Healthy alternatives, most of the time, if you are depending on food agencies, you are not always getting the highest quality product. Just because someone lives in food insecurity doesn't mean they are any less deserving of quality food than anyone else," Kane said.
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