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LEWISTON, Maine — Although Tuesday was election day in the United States, it felt more like Christmas Day for the cross country and track and field programs at Lewiston High School (Maine).

North Middlesex cross country coach Suzanne Williams and her two captains traveled up to Lewiston to present a check worth over $2,000 that the team raised for the school’s program through its “Miles For Lewiston” fundraiser.

Lewiston expected to receive the $2,000 check, but the surprise that North Middlesex organized was the announcement of a successful grant from CytoSport’s Muscle Milk for $20,000, bringing the total donated, including track shoes and supplies, to a value exceeding $25,000.

About 50 percent of the population at Lewiston High School consists of African refugees, many of whom live in poverty, without both sets of parents and cannot afford proper track gear and even food for dinner in some cases, is a tremendous challenge.

“I’ve got to say I was blown away,” Lewiston High School head track and cross country coach Paul Soracco said. “When they pulled out that check for 20-grand, the place went crazy. It was a really cool day, and a really emotional day for our program. We expected nothing like that, and for my kids to see that, they’re not used to seeing things like that.”

In a small ceremony inside the Lewiston High School gymnasium of over 150 students, administrators and coaches, North Middlesex cross country presented 200 pairs of unworn shoes to the Lewiston athletes (as well as socks and other supplies) and a check for the over $2,000 that the team raised on a GoFund Me page, which included individual donations and mile sponsorships.

The surprise came shortly after when a Muscle Milk representative presented a giant check for $20,000 to the Lewiston High School Track and Cross Country teams. The funds do not have restrictions on spending, with the only rule that purchases go to improve the track and cross country programs at the school.

“A Muscle Milk representative was here and gave a speech about nutrition as a diversion,” Williams said. “At the end of the ceremony when (the crowd) thought it was over, she presented a giant check, and the Lewiston assistant coach broke down, the head coach couldn’t believe it, and the whole gym erupted in cheers. It just feels great to help this community, it’s something that the Lewiston athletes and coaches, and our athletes and parents won’t soon forget.”

Soracco actually applied to the grant after Williams did, as Williams found out that the school received the dollars weeks ago. Soracco only applied for a nutritional grant, and not the broad financial grant, and he received a denial letter earlier this week. Muscle Milk knew that Lewiston would be getting the financial grant, but wanted to keep it a secret under Williams’ urging.

There are a lot of needs for the track program, from outdated and poor-condition uniforms to fit 130 athletes, inadequate equipment, to even the most basic need, athletes without the proper fuel. The money raised by North Middlesex could help solve all of these problems.

“When we go to meets, we’re gone for 10-12 hours and these kids have no food,” Soracco said. “For us to use some of it for nourishment for these kids would be good, because we’ll have kids dry heaving in a barrel because their stomachs are empty.

“When I applied for the grant, I applied for the nutrition element, because my thinking was if I could get some food for these kids it would be huge. When they came out with the check, I realized it was going to do so much for us.”

The goal of Lewiston is to spread the money out over a number of years, to make sure it has the biggest impact. With high poverty in the community, many past fundraisers include lots of hours of work, from collecting bottles and returning them for the deposits, and doing anything it could to generate a little money for the special things that the program does. There are also a lot of behind the scene expenses that the staff does for the students.

“We usually raise $4,000 a year in fundraising and know how hard we work on concession stands and bottle drives,” Lewiston High assistant coach Carolyn Court said.

“We work hard, but we’re never really getting ahead. To us $2,000 is a big gift, I’ve never even heard of a grant this big unless you’re building a facility. We can budget it for years to come, and we’re practical, and will use it wisely.”

The two North Middlesex captains and their parents, who made the trip along with Williams, visited the Trinity Jubilee Center (soup kitchen) in Lewiston to drop off donated clothes before the ceremony.

The impact on the North Middlesex captains was clear the minute they stepped into the gymnasium and saw the look of the Lewiston students’ and coaches’ faces, after they found out what they would be getting for their program.

“It was honestly one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced before,” North Middlesex captain Elisha Bouchard said. “I didn’t realize how much it would impact them until we presented the check. The kids were screaming, their coach was in tears, and it was an amazing feeling to know we made them feel that way.”

Later the two captains went for a training run with a few of the Lewiston High runners, to help prepare for Saturday’s Central Mass. District Championship.

The Patriot runners bonded over running and college goals, and learned their similarities to the different circumstances they are growing up under.

“It made the situation feel realistic,” North Middlesex captain Mike Spooner said. “It was hard to imagine the impact, doing the fundraiser and not knowing the kids, but getting to know them was very powerful to me. It felt very meaningful.”