Take 4 Program takes the lead on food recovery effort in Waterville

Approximately 40% of food in the United States is wasted. In spite of this, about 20% of Waterville citizens do not have access to healthy food. Poverty and food insecurity are major and often hidden issue in the community. 

Colby junior Ja’Sean Holmes `21 is working to confront issues of food insecurity in the Waterville community and raise awareness through his Take 4 Program. 

The Echo spoke with Holmes about his work with local and student volunteers. 

Fran Mullin `84, the director at community health nonprofit Healthy Northern Kennebec and a volunteer with the Take 4 Program, told the Echo that “We did focus groups in 2014, with eleven different focus groups with 83 people. They were asked what the biggest problem is in this area for [their] neighbors and for the community. Every group said food. Every group said access to food, to healthy food. People were noticing that that was a problem.” 

At Colby, Holmes has “always noticed that a lot of food in the dining halls is put to waste,” despite there being “a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat.” Last spring, he decided “there was something to be done about it”. 

Holmes reached out to Marietta Lamarre, the director of Colby’s dining services. Together, with Take 4 hourly chef manager Liz York, they started the Take 4 Program, or as Holmes sometimes calls it, “the Take 4 Give Back Program.” 

“Ja’Sean really drove it, you know?” Mullin said. “He took leadership and he really drove it.”

The Take 4 Program operates on Wednesdays and Fridays when, as Mullin said, “volunteers pick up the leftover sandwiches, soups, and salads from Take 4 and bring this healthy food to the Evening Sandwich Program at the UU [Universalist-Unitarian] Church on Silver Street in Waterville.”

Holmes’ role requires that “when Take 4 closes, I go to Liz and I help package the foods. I record how much food is left to be donated, and then with a group of volunteers here and in the Waterville community from an organization called KV Connect, I put the donations in their (KV Connect’s) cars. So they do the actual deliveries of food, and I record it, and I help package them.” 

 The need for the Take 4 Program is clear to Mullin when she sees “folks at the Evening Sandwich Program are lining up for food an hour before the place even opens.” 

She explained that “when we can get good food from Colby that is really delicious and healthy, it will get eaten right away,” and added that “every single one of those salads and meals that we took down on Friday are gone; they were eaten that night.”

Holmes and Mullin both expressed a desire to further expand the availability of healthy options. Holmes described a need “to adjust so it’s not just food that is donated, but healthy food too.” 

He said that healthy options are often limited for those in poverty, and that “a lot of foods that people leave to donate are cookies and cakes, and we’re working to have more healthy options for people to have.” 

Mullin explained that “as a system, we have more healthy food going into those programs, but there is more to be done. There is always more that can be done, and this connection with Colby is something that we have always wanted to have.” 

According to Mullin, Colby’s Take 4 “already has sandwiches that are all packaged up and salads that are beautiful and healthy.” She said that they “don’t keep those salads and sandwiches around forever,” and that they are sent downtown “when they are just a little bit past prime, but still really good.” 

In the near future, Holmes hopes to expand the program’s involvement with the College even further, saying that, next, “we plan to go to the dining halls. Once we get even more food from the dining halls, and see if it works out, we plan to donate to even more places in the Waterville area, not just the Evening Sandwich Program, but other homeless shelters.” 

In addition to food recovery efforts, one of the most valuable aspects of the Take 4 Program has been the initiative taken to show Waterville “that caring aspect of the Colby community.” 

Mullin explained that the effects of food insecurity extend far beyond hunger. She recounted that “one of our folks in the focus groups said that feeling like no one cares is worse than being hungry.”

“We have to work on this connection with the community and this disconnection that people are feeling, and make sure that we’re not just filling bellies, but also healing some divisions that are really painful,” she added. “And so we have a greater mission than just providing food.” 

In light of this, Holmes said that he has “seen a lot of positive impacts” on the Waterville community. 

“I know that more people are being fed at the Evening Sandwich Program. Just seeing the smiles on their faces when we bring in the food; that’s very fulfilling,” he explained. “It has had a positive effect on us Colby students as well. A lot more students are interested in this.”

Holmes feels that the Take 4 Program is “a good gateway to just get out and see what the Waterville community has to offer: what’s out there outside of Colby,” he said. “I’ve gotten to see a lot of different people. I’ve gotten a really good view of Waterville, and it’s made me appreciate it a lot more.”

Holmes urges interested Colby students to reach out to him, saying the program “can always use more volunteers: more people to drive, to bring the donations to the Evening Sandwich Program.” 

Mullin added that if there are students who “don’t have a car and can’t help transport food, maybe they would be interested in writing about it or taking pictures or doing podcasts or videos or helping with logistics. There are a lot of ways that people can be a part of it.”

Mullin hopes to raise awareness through increased student involvement, as food insecurity in Waterville “is a hidden problem unless you’re looking, because you can go about your day and not see people lined up for food.” 

According to Mullin, the efforts at Colby and in Waterville are “driven by the community. That’s the thing that I think is beautiful. People are stepping up and they are taking leadership.”

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