Full Plates Launches John T. Woods Innovation Fund

September 23, 2021

Full Plates Full Potential, an organization working to end child hunger in Maine, today announced the launch of the John T. Woods Innovation Fund, a brand new grant program to support school districts and community organizations in piloting innovative strategies to increase participation in, and access to, school meals. In its first year, Full Plates’ expects to grant out $100,000 in Innovation Fund grants.

Founded in memory of John T. Woods, Full Plates’ co-founder who passed away in March after a battle with cancer, the Innovation Fund builds on learnings from Full Plates’ grantmaking work to date including its response to the pandemic and is intended to complement Full Plates’ systems change and advocacy efforts.

“As we work toward a permanent end to child hunger in Maine, we have always leaned on the expertise and experiences of the folks on the ground to inform our systems change efforts,” said Justin Strasburger, Full Plates Full Potential’s executive director. “The pandemic has underscored both the fragility of our current child nutrition systems and the tremendous opportunity for creative solutions. As someone who steadfastly believed that child hunger in Maine is a solvable issue, I can think of no better way to carry forward his vision and legacy, than by leaning into bold ideas.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, forcing schools to close, school nutrition teams and other meal providers had to get creative in finding ways to get meals to kids who needed them. Full Plates supported these efforts through more than $1.3M in pandemic relief grants made to schools and community organizations. More recently, legislation was passed making Maine one of the first states in the country to provide school meals to all students regardless of ability to pay, but Strasburger was quick to point out that this legislation, while important, is not a silver bullet.

“Passing School Meals for All is a huge step forward but it’s important to remember that cost is only one of many barriers that exist in ensuring healthy meals are easily accessible to all who need them. Students continue to face challenges related to stigma, timing of meals, dietary needs, and more. We know from experience how critical the people serving meals to students every day are to the successful implementation of new policies and the identification of other barriers that need to be removed.

The Innovation Fund will officially open on Monday, September 27th with grants ranging from $15,000-$30,000. The Woods family offered their full-throated support in a statement: “We are so thrilled to see the John T. Woods Innovation Fund launched. John was always looking for creative ways to solve problems, and was known to ‘shoot for the moon’ with his solutions. The great thing about it was that when John would shoot for the moon, we were constantly surprised at how close we got to those lofty, dreamlike goals! A fund dedicated to solving essential problems through innovation, is a most fitting legacy for John.”

The Fund is supported through individual donations and corporate partnerships, including one with Maine Credit Unions’ Campaign for Ending Hunger. 

“John Woods was a dedicated advocate in the fight to combat childhood hunger,” said Tim Brooks, Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Communications, at the Maine Credit Union League. “Through the creation of the John Woods Innovation Grant Program, his leadership, passion, and legacy will live on and ensure children across the state have access to healthy meals. Maine Credit Unions’ Campaign for Ending Hunger is honored to be one of the first organizations to sign on as a sponsor of this critical program. It truly is a wonderful way to honor a special man!”

Individuals or companies interested in contributing to the Innovation Fund are encouraged to contact Justin Strasburger at jstras@fullplates.org.

Child nutrition program providers can learn more about the Fund and apply here.

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