Merlene Davis: Summer food program needs help reaching more children

These are items found in breakfast and lunch packs from Fresh Approach for the Summer Food Service Program for children.
These are items found in breakfast and lunch packs from Fresh Approach for the Summer Food Service Program for children.

While school is in session, students of limited financial means are assured one healthy meal a day thanks to the school lunch program. But getting that healthy meal during the summer months can be a problem for some of those students.

Walt Barbour, director of Fresh Approach, a program that provides jobs and teaches skills to intellectually challenged adults, said he has the ability to provide the lunches through funding from the free Summer Food Service Program.

But he needs more people to set up places where the children can come to eat. With their help, more kids can be fed.

"We want to identify more sites that can deliver the food to the children who need it most," Barbour said, adding that the workers at Fresh Approach will sack the lunches.

"We are looking to try to put them in places that will provide not just the distribution of the food, but also provide activities that will draw the kids there."

Ideal sites would be churches or community buildings, he said, because there would be adult supervision while the children eat the food. The federal program, administered by the state, does not allow the food to be carried off-site.

Other possibilities could be community rooms at apartment complexes, day camps, vacation Bible schools or non-profit day-care centers.

There may also be an instance where a program already exists or is starting and the summer food program can provide the free daily meal. For example, when Grant Manager Lynda Frazier and Principal Mark Sellers of the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy learned of a need in Cardinal Valley for a continued learning summer program, they stepped in to start one.

Through a grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Center, Frazier and several community organizations have set up a five-day program at the Village Branch Library that includes a summer reading program, martial arts, music, and science, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Three days a week a certified teacher will be on-hand to tutor and provide structured activities.

"It will help the kids stay on track during the summer," Frazier said. "Then, in the fall, they will be ahead of the game and will have better behavior."

God's Pantry, which, like Fresh Approach, is a sponsor agency with the summer food program, agreed to provide a hot lunch for the students. The lunch will be cooked at First United Methodist Church and then transported to the library.

"I am so very proud we have united three or four community organizations in this innovative partnership," Frazier said. "And all the egos are on a shelf."

Volunteers and supplies are welcome, she said. Call (859) 381-4040, Ext., 3006. During the school year, a similar program serves 2,000 students a month at the Village branch. Frazier said she anticipates as many as 75 a day during the summer months.

The library program is the result of a community working together — the 21st Century grant provided educational and social opportunities and the free feeding program provided the nutrition — for the best interest of children. That type of cooperation is what Barbour is hoping to find and join.

All that's needed is a safe place for children to eat, an appointed time that remains consistent, and someone willing to ensure the children are served the entire meal.

Barbour said each site must maintain an accurate count of distributed meals.

"It's taxpayer money," he said, "and the state wants things done right."

Breakfast could also be provided, he said.

"There is not an abundance of starving children," Barbour said, "but there are plenty of nutritionally deprived ones."

And that is very correctable.