It is 11:26 a.m. in the Woodridge Apartment community in Asheville, and there is a line of children sitting on a bench and more coming down the sidewalk. They are walking toward a shaded area where staff from Children First/CIS and volunteers from Unitarian Universalist Church are unfolding tables and opening up large Styrofoam containers full of milk and packed lunches.
They are setting up a feeding site for the Super Summer Meals program, a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Buncombe County Schools and partner organizations. The Summer Food Service Program is a federally funded, state-administered program, which reimburses providers who serve healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas at no charge primarily during the summer months. During the school year, many children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs. When school lets out, many of these children are at risk of hunger, and the Summer Food Service Program originated to help alleviate this risk.
The program runs June 16-Aug. 8, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Woodridge feeding site is an open site, meaning any child ages 2-18 from Buncombe County can go there and get a free lunch. Volunteers staff the site, with at least one trained staff member from a partner agency on site to keep records and manage food safety. Buncombe County Schools Child Nutrition Supervisor Mary Andreae holds trainings on record-keeping, food safety, and USDA guidelines and regulations for all partner agency staff members who facilitate the feeding sites.
Candace arrives at the site with three of her four children, ages 3 to 16. “This program helps a lot,” she says as her children line up excitedly at the table. “When the kids are in school, they get their lunches provided for them. In the summer, my food bill goes up substantially, but I don’t get an increase in the amount of food stamps. It makes it tough.”
“Having this program saves me probably $100 a month in my food budget,” she continues as she helps her youngest daughter prepare her sandwich. “Because of this program, my food budget stays the same as it is during the school year, and that really helps a lot. Plus, the kids get really excited about coming to the site. They know exactly when the food arrives and say, ‘Mommy, can we go get lunch now?’”
Currently in its fourth year, the Summer Food Service Program grew in response to the risk of summer food insecurity experienced by children who are on the free and reduced meal program during the school year. Over half of Buncombe County students participate in the free and reduced meal program and are at risk of experiencing hunger during the summer months.
“Last summer, we served 85,000 meals to children in Buncombe County,” Andreae says. “We expect this year to exceed those numbers just based on the anecdotal reporting we are receiving from our sites. We have more open sites this year than last, and in the second week of July, we have already had 39 percent increase in the number of meals served.”
About 20 people are gathered around the feeding site on park benches and on the curb, eating their lunches and talking together. A 3-year-old girl smiles shyly up at a group of high-school students. “Hamburger day is a popular day,” says Demarcus Thompson from Children First/CIS. “We won’t have any leftovers today.”
Making sure children are well-fed throughout the year is a part of every parent’s success equation. Support the summer meal program by thanking the Buncombe County Board of Education for providing this valuable service for Buncombe County children and encourage them to continue providing this service so all children can thrive.
Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, a local nonprofit that provides advocacy, educational programming and direct services to economically disadvantaged children and families.
This story is part of a series collected by The Success Equation. Under the umbrella of Children First/CIS (www.childrenfirstcisbc.org), the Success Equation is an initiative that unites community to reduce and prevent the root causes of poverty so all children can thrive. Learn about action steps, volunteer opportunities and help share these messages by going to www.facebook.com/SuccessEquation. To find more, go to www.successequation.org.