Providing free food
For the past 30 years, Wayside Food Programs has, in one way or another, been providing free food to people in need throughout Southern Maine.
Wayside’s hunger relief efforts include:
- 13 free weekly Community Meals
- Five Mobile Food Pantries
- Kids’ Healthy Snacks program
- Community Gardens
Through its Food Rescue Program, in 2015 Wayside distributed more than one million pounds of food to more than 40 agencies in Cumberland County. It salvages edible food from various sources — grocery stores, wholesalers, local farms, shipping companies, and other food establishments. There is nothing wrong with the food. It’s just not sellable for cosmetic reasons, packaging imperfections, or because there is a surplus. Rather than going to waste, the rescued food goes to soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and the free community meals.
I recently spoke with Carly Milkowski, the resource coordinator at Wayside. She helps coordinates the 1000 plus volunteers who work in the warehouse, do pickups and deliveries and help prepare, set up and serve meals.
Carly also runs the Wayside kitchen, which is located in the main office on Walton Street in Portland, Maine. No food is served there, but it’s where all the cooking is done for the community meals.
While most of the community meals are small, there are several going on most days of the week and they often cook for as many as 100 to 250 people at a time.
Casseroles are great because they travel well, but Carly works with what she has on hand, so the menu varies. Because they have so many generous donors, she has access to “a lot of really fresh and healthy ingredients.”
One thing she enjoys is introducing people to foods they haven’t tried before. “We served a Thai curry a few weeks ago and it was a huge hit,” she said. “I didn’t know how it would go over. Generally, people are open-minded about trying new foods.”
Carly tries to plan the menus in advance but has to be flexible because they often have no idea what they’ll have for ingredients. She and the kitchen volunteers joke that it sometimes feels like they’re on the cooking show The Iron Chef. “For example,” she said, “over the weekend we had a catering company drop off leftover pork from a pig roast. I wasn’t planning on that, but today we’ll be making pork chili. We also have a lot of tomatoes and peppers right now.”
The chili was going to be served that evening at the Westbrook Community Center. Wayside partners with the Community Center and the Trinity Lutheran Church to put on a weekly meal that brings in at least 80 people. “The volunteer group that took that on made that happen,” says Carly. “They’ve been a great group to work with over the years. The weekly meals are about building community, where people are coming together to meet friends and neighbors. They also get healthy food and help making ends meet if that’s what’s needed.”
All meals are designed to be supplemental so the Westbrook meal is only once a week. Other sites on a weekly basis. not soup kitchen but are trying to have that weekly event where people are coming together, be part of their community, meet friends and neighbors but also get healthy food and help make ends meet if that’s what’s needed.
Comfort foods are a classic at the community meals. Carly was kind enough to share one of their more popular recipes. Macaroni and cheese, with a layer of spinach to give it a nutritional boost. They call it Popeye’s Mac and Cheese.
Popeye’s Mac and Cheese (Baked Macaroni and Cheese)
- 3 tablespoons plain, dry breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- quarter teaspoon paprika
- 1 16-ounce package frozen spinach
- 1 and 3/4 cups low-fat or skim milk, divided
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- quarter teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces (2 cups)whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne
- Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
- Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
- Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.