School program dishes up free meals for hundreds of children

Breakfast for lunch was quite a treat for Kyle Devine, 8.

“Today was the best,” he said after polishing off french toast sticks, hash browns, apples and chocolate milk at the Kent City Summer Lunch program, open to all children under age 18 for free breakfast, lunch and a snack for several weeks in the summer.

“It’s free,” said Dawson Van Syckle, 11. “Anyone can come and you get to meet new people you don’t know.”

Kent City Community Schools is one of several local schools participating in the statewide campaign “Meet Up and Eat Up” program, launched by Michigan No Kid Hungry partners, including the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Michigan Departments of Human Services and Education and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Students enjoy lunch at Kent City Middle School, a site for

Many local sites

In addition to Kent City, about 60 locations in Kent County are offering the free meals through mid-August, many of them in schools, including Wyoming Public Schools, Grandville Public Schools, Cedar Springs Public Schools,  Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kelloggsville Public Schools, Godwin Heights Public Schools and Cedar Springs Community Schools.

In Kent City, it’s not just neighborhood children who stop in to eat at the Middle School.  About 200 migrant children whose parents pick fruit at area orchards are fed regular meals at the school as part of the Summer Migrant Program, which offers summer school to migrant children. Others who come to dine include children from area daycare centers, vacation Bible schools, and anyone in need of a meal.

“Anything happening in town, we brace for that group,” explained Beth Ohman, food service supervisor for the schools who also helps coordinate the summer program.

Alyson Mol, an assistant at Sonshine Corner Learning Center, in Kent City, brings 35-40 children for breakfast and lunch. “They get excited. They are always asking what’s for lunch. They love all the lunch ladies,” she said.

A significant need

National benchmark suggest that 40 percent of kids who regularly eat free or reduced price school meals also need access to summer meals if their year-round nutritional needs are to be adequately met. Currently in Michigan, only 15 percent of kids who eat free or reduced price school meals have access to free summer meals. In Michigan and 17 other states, No Kid Hungry is working to close that summer meal gap, according to United Way spokesperson Laura Rodwan.

In the summer of 2012, Michigan served 3.57 million summer meals. Michigan No Kid Hungry has set a goal to serve 4 percent more meals this summer, Rodwan said. “As for the number of kids served, we know that very roughly, there was an average daily participation of about 85,000 kids per day in the summer of 2012 in the state.”

 A school or community organization can become an open site, where any child or teen can come eat a free meal without signing up or registering, when 50 percent or more of the students living in that school attendance area are eligible for free or reduced price school meals.

At Kent City schools,about 60 percent of students receive reduced or free lunches, said Ohman.

Connect:

No Kid Hungry

United Way 211

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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