News, Success Stories

AmeriCorps member Grace helps feed children in Portland, Maine through this global pandemic

A girl in a field of blueberries

Grace Montgomery wants to give back to her community while getting hands-on knowledge about food systems after studying agriculture in college. As an AmeriCorps VISTA she began her service by writing grants and creating promotional materials for her host site, Food Fuels Learning, a community coalition focusing on feeding at-risk children. Then, six months into her year of service, the global Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Her organization typically works within Portland Public Schools. When schools closed, the organization and its partners quickly pivoted to feed kids in the community. Suddenly, Grace was working in a kitchen and handing out food to local families. She quit her second job at Hannaford to ensure her exposure to the virus was limited to help keep kids safe.

“It became quickly clear that there was an intense need,” she said. “I was working in the central kitchen and things got kind of crazy because the decision to close the schools was made quickly so we had to switch to a new feeding model very quickly. It was really impressive to see the food department mobilize.”

Families now drive to one of several sites in the city to get packages of food, like easy pizza-making kits, snacks, and groceries.

“The school food system has such broad impacts from how successful someone will be in their education,” Grace said. “It’s an important part of kids’ lives.”

Now that things have settled into a routine, Grace is again working on the capacity-building that will help keep local food systems stable in the long-run. She organizes community calls with local action groups and nonprofits to think through big ideas, and now she’s coordinating a video series about cooking, food waste and nutrition.

“I try to be helpful. Especially during this time, I try to help out where I’m needed. The little bit of direct service I did [handing out food] felt so rewarding,” she said. “People are really grateful for it. Food service workers – they’re out there every day in the cold and rain serving food no matter what. I’m in awe of them. They’re wonderful.”

The Goodwill VISTA members are placed in local partner agencies to help the organizations increase their capacity to fight poverty. They help organizations develop new systems to lift people and communities up out of poverty. If you’re interested in becoming a VISTA, or becoming a “host site” partner agency, please visit

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