Project Spotlight: Maine Day Meal Packout

Project Spotlight is a monthly series dedicated to sharing outstanding Honors projects, both in and out of the classroom. This month, we are highlighting the Maine Day Meal Packout committee and the work they are doing to organize the upcoming event.

Maine Day is an annual UMaine tradition that has evolved in many ways since its inauguration in 1935. Held each spring, during the last week of classes, Maine Day serves as an opportunity for all members of the UMaine community to join in campus-wide volunteerism. Since 2013, the University of Maine Honors College has hosted the Maine Day Meal Pack-Out on Maine Day, where dedicated volunteers pack and send thousands of meals to those in need across the state.

This event requires months of planning to coordinate, but in years past has set records for the number of meals packed – making UMaine the #1 meal-packing university in New England. In 2017, UMaine set the record for the most meals packed by a U.S. university during one event, packing a total of 107,500 meals!  Since the first meal pack out in 2013, the Maine Day Meal Packout (MDMP) Campaign has packed over half a million meals.

This year, the Maine Day Meal Pack-out committee is gearing up for an in-person event this year on Maine Day, Wednesday April 27th. Dominique DiSpirito, the student director for the MDMP committee, acknowledges how, “it’s really inspiring to be able to return to an in-person MDMP after the pandemic… and the last four years have really captured how powerful resilient communities are. ” The MDMP campaign was able to adapt and remotely distribute over 73,000 meals in 2020 and launch a hunger awareness campaign in 2021, but, “we’ve all missed the excitement of planning for the in-person event,” notes DiSpirito. She is, “especially excited to be working alongside brilliant,

Volunteers helping to pack non-perishable meals at a past years MDMP.

passionate students who, most of which, will be experiencing the traditional MDMP for the first time,” also adding, “our campus and community partners are just as excited as we are, maybe more.”

Jessica Hutchinson, social media director for the MDMP committee, is working hard to engage with the local community to promote the cause. Unable to participate in recent years due to the pandemic, this is Hutchinson’s first year on the MDMP committee, but she feels, “we have a firm grasp of our goals and we are all eager to participate now that the MDMP is closer to being ‘normal’ this year.”

Star Straub is a first-year Honors student and an active member of the Honors Student Advisory Board, encouraging them to take the position of advertising specialist for the MDMP committee. They are excited to help their broader community with issues of food insecurity and looks forward to coordinating with local news stations to highlight the event. 

Mikayla Reynolds is equally as excited to serve as the committee’s food bank liaison. Reynolds shares that, “after dipping my toes in where I could last year, I knew I wanted to be more intentionally 

Even Bananas T. Bear comes out to help pack meals each year!

involved this year for the 2022 MDMP,” and has enjoyed collaborating with other Honors students in coordination efforts so far. She also adds that while she is excited for planning the distribution of meals to food banks and organizations, she is, “most excited for the gathering on Maine Day to pack and distribute the meals and to do so alongside the Honors and UMaine community.”

Melissa Ladenheim, the MDMP advisor and administrative coordinator, shares her excitement for the first in-person MDMP since 2019. Ladenheim expresses deep gratitude, “for all the support we have received from UMaine and members of the community,” noting that, “the pandemic has only exacerbated food insecurity on our campus and across our state, making efforts like the MDMP all the more critical. I am very proud of our Honors College students who are leading the charge to help feed hungry Mainers while also working to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of food insecurity. Their commitment to being positive agents of change is inspirational.”

The MDMP committee encourages any and all individuals to participate in the campaign and celebrate the tradition of service this Maine Day helping to address food insecurity in Maine.

Ways to get involved:

  • Donate!
  • Support the bar crawl: Bar Crawl fundraiser will be on April 15th, time and venues TBA, so stay tuned for more details on the event!
  • Volunteer on Maine Day: The MDMP will be looking for volunteers soon! Volunteers can choose to participate in a shift, posted here, on the Bodwell Center website. 
  • Learn more about food insecurity: Interested individuals are invited to attend the upcoming panel on food insecurity in April to learn more about the misconceptions and stigmas around college hunger to be a better advocate and neighbor.

This campaign is made possible through the support of the community and the many organizations and individuals who donated their time and money to this cause.