Get to Know Full Plates | Meet Maine’s Child Hunger Heroes

At Full Plates, we’ve long partnered with school nutrition directors – past and present – knowing that there’s nothing like the been-there-done-that, and the in-the-midst-of-it perspectives they bring to bear to inform our work. It’s our privilege to introduce you to a few of these change-agents who collaborate with us, and each other, to make sure that every Maine child has ready and reliable access to healthy meals they want to eat.

Meet Alisa Roman

Alisa Roman is at the helm of one of the highest-volume food service operations in Maine. With a staff of 75 school nutrition professionals, her team feeds students at seven Lewiston schools – each with their own full-service kitchen, each featuring their own independent daily menus. At the high school alone, she runs four lines during each lunch service feeding more than 1,000 teens in an hour while offering 18 different meal choices. It’s a massive and essential undertaking in a community where upwards of 95% of children rely on these meals as their primary source of nutrition.

With student enrollment hovering around 5,000 kids, Lewiston is one of the most populous and diverse school districts in Maine situated in a uniquely urban setting in our largely rural state. In April alone, even with the continuing complications of COVID protocols, they served 60,000 breakfasts and lunches while keeping their long-held commitment of tailoring dining service to each individual school.

“This city was founded on community and community kitchens,” Alisa shared, noting that her staff know the name of every kid going through the line. “They’re making the food. They’re serving it. It’s a very personalized experience.

“It just changes the experience if the person serving the meal can say, ‘I made this for you, Johnny. You’re gonna love it.’ So, for as long as I can, I will insist on these community kitchens.

“I’m always trying to connect with community and I love how Full Plates connects the hospitality community with the school system – which is, arguably, the largest restaurant in the state.” – a nod to Full Plates’ events and FEED KIDS cause marketing culinary partner.

In applying for financial assistance from Full Plates, Alisa appreciates that, “I know that childhood hunger is in the mind of the organization and its donors. There’s intent behind it. It’s not just to throw some money at it and patch the problem. It’s about a long-term fix. Their grants directly benefit nutrition programs. They’re hitting on what we actually need and what we’re asking for.

Alisa notes that most grants opportunities available to her are generally too prescriptive with onerous reporting requirements. In working with Full Plates, however, “What’s been so wonderful about your organization is, as a nutrition director, you leave me the flexibility to say ‘this is what would work really well’. On the other hand, Full Plates is really great in sharing ‘This is what we’ve done for other schools and it worked really well. Would this benefit you?’”

Alisa also credits Full Plates with filling a void in advocacy efforts to support school nutrition programs. Regarding the prospect of Maine becoming the first state in the nation to support school meals for all, she shares, “I’m excited about universal meals. I’m hoping that there are enough politicians in Maine that say ‘It’s not worth waiting for the feds to figure it out, let’s do something now.’”

Alisa has been with the Lewiston Public Schools Nutrition Program since 2012 and has served as the director since 2013. She brings to the position a wealth of operations experience gained in more than eight years with the food services and facilities management conglomerate – Sodexo – mostly in college settings.

She currently serves as the President of the Maine School Nutrition Association and, in addition to her responsibilities as School Nutrition Director, also holds the dual responsibility of Transportation Director for the Lewiston school district.

Meet Laura Pineo

A recently retired school nutrition director. Laura Pineo is a founding member of Full Plates’ Board of Directors, currently serving as our Acting Board Chair.

For 15 years Laura headed up the school nutrition program in the largest district, both geographically and in terms of student population in Central Maine – RSU 54/MSAD54 (Skowhegan). A big job, indeed, and one which she always tackled with a “one child” focus – certain that if she could help one child access the meals they need on a consistent basis, it could change their stars.

“I have always believed that if I could be instrumental in providing delicious, nutrient dense, child approved, well balanced meals that meet the USDA School Meal guidelines at NO COST to students, then we should find the resources to do so,” says Laura.

During her tenure as Skowhegan’s school nutrition director, Laura was the first in the state to apply for and be designated as a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) district by the USDA. CEP means that RSU 54 can feed all kids, districtwide, at no charge to their families because the USDA reimburses the school’s nutrition program for every meal served based on the collective need in the community – a game-changer for a district of 2,600 students of which more than 70% qualify for free and reduced price meals.

Today, Laura remains active in Maine’s school nutrition community serving as a mentor for active school nutrition directors, helping them through administrative hurdles and advocate for the children they serve, and of course, as a guiding force on Full Plates’ Board of Directors.

Meet Chris & Lynnette

Christine Greenier and Lynnette Harriman have six decades of school nutrition experience between them – an astounding statistic since, as Lynnette jokes – “we’re both still in our 30s!”

Thankfully, in their retirement, Chris and Lynnette are available to help connect today’s school nutrition directors to solutions and resources. More than that though, they’re a source of encouragement and empowerment. “You’re trying to feed kids but you spend so much time trying to make ends meet,” according to  Lynnette, reflecting on the day-to-day financial hardships for school nutrition directors. “It’s really hard to hold the ends together, financially,” agrees Chris. Key to the assistance the duo offer is making nutrition directors aware of Full Plates’ grant programs and even helping out with the application process. 

Chris served 30 years in school nutrition at RSU22 (Hampden) just outside of Bangor, and Lynnette spent 30 years in school nutrition in York County at MSAD 60 (Noble) and RSU 57 (Massabesic) – at times managing both districts simultaneously.

These days, thanks to an investment from our partners at Share Our Strength, they now work as part time consultants to Full Plates helping school nutrition directors statewide navigate some of the more challenging aspects of their jobs.

Each devotes about ten hours weekly, leveraging their years of hard-earned wisdom and well-honed relationships to benefit the next generation of child hunger heroes. “You know what questions to ask,” says Chris. “Directors really appreciate someone who cares and understands,” Lynnette adds.

They both believe that the pandemic has shed a whole new light on school meal programs and the professionals who run them. “I cannot believe what the schools have done to feed these kids during the pandemic,” Chris shared. “It’s opened the eyes of administrators as to just how much school nutrition directors do.” Of school nutrition directors statewide, Lynnette says “They have really stepped up to the plate. School meals have become so visible through the pandemic. The importance of feeding kids has been elevated.”