Mar. 15—LEWISTON — With the "sponsor a meal" program at the Trinity Jubilee Center, willing participants can "adopt" a day in the soup kitchen, providing that day's meal to shelter guests.
Lewiston teen Jackson O'Brien decided he would adopt an entire week.
Erin Reed, director of Trinity Jubilee, said the "sponsor a meal" donations help cover the costs of running the soup kitchen on a given day — everything from food to silverware to cleaning supplies. Reed said she is always "amazed" when young people are thinking about issues, such as hunger and homelessness.
O'Brien, 16, is a junior at Hebron Academy. He only moved to Lewiston from Boston a few years ago.
Around the holidays, he said he decided to donate partly because of the impacts of the pandemic. He would have liked to have been able to volunteer in person, but COVID-19 guidelines have complicated the effort. All meals and groceries have been distributed outdoors.
"I know times are incredibly difficult for everyone to get the supplies they need and I figured that helping would be the best possible gift," he said. "I am not materialistic in the slightest and no matter how cheesy it is, the gift of giving is the best thing."
O'Brien said he wanted to make a donation "because I know how rare it is to have a stable source of food and I have been fortunate enough to have that."
Reed said some who adopt meals at the shelter will sponsor a loved one's birthday or anniversary. She said the shelter has seen several kids gather donations during the pandemic and that it's been "heartwarming."
"Hunger and homelessness are such complicated, tough topics to talk about with kids and we're always so amazed at how much empathy and kindness these kids have for people in need," she said. "Kids who have a warm bed and a full fridge are so lucky.
"When kids like Jackson are thinking about kids their age who are going hungry and asking for food for them instead of a new video game for themselves, that is amazing. His parents should be very proud."
The soup kitchen at Trinity served about 30,000 meals in 2020.
"People are grateful for any food but especially for hot, home-cooked meals," Reed said. "We never considered closing our soup kitchen during the pandemic, not even for a day, and donations like this have helped us stay open."
Jack and Danielle O'Brien, Jackson's parents, are indeed proud.
Jack O'Brien said Jackson took the initiative himself, "knowing not only of the global hardships revolving around the pandemic, but ones closer to home."
"He knew he was someone in a position to make an impact for local families in need and eagerly jumped to action," Jack O'Brien said. "He is a very selfless individual, always thinking of others before himself. Especially ones who may not be as fortunate as he is to have a regular meal on the table multiple times a day, let alone in a week.
"Danielle and I are super excited to watch Jackson mature into adulthood, and act in many ways to help the ones around him."
When asked if he plans to continue donating and volunteering, especially once the pandemic has receded, Jackson O'Brien said: "Of course I will continue to do things like this when I can."
Next time, he said, he would like it to be in person.