School lunch extends through the summer

Local children who depend on free and reduced-price lunches during the school year still get meals during summer, thanks to the federal Seamless Summer Feeding Program.

It is an extension of the National School Lunch Program, said Tina Farmer, child nutrition director for the Cabarrus County Schools. Cabarrus County has 13 sites at 16 locations, she said.

"We do about 750 lunches and snacks per day," Farmer said. The food is prepared at Winecoff Elementary School, ready for delivery or pickup five days a week.

Lunches include kid-friendly favorites such as chicken tenders, ham sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches and chili cheese dogs. They're served with such side dishes as corn, salad, dill pickle strips, carrots and potato wedges.

Snacks may include graham crackers or yogurt, and both lunches and snacks are served with milk.

One of the requirements for a summer activity program to receive the Seamless Summer Feeding service is that it offer enrichment programs. Many day camps, parks and recreation departments, churches and the Boys & Girls Club of Cabarrus County participate, Farmer said.

Another requirement is that the site be near an area where a higher number of children receive free and reduced-price lunches.

The Boys & Girls Club is near Coltrane-Webb Elementary School, 90percent of whose students get free and reduced-price lunches. For an area to qualify, Farmer said, at least half of the children there must be on free and reduced-price lunches.

Enrollment in the Boys & Girls Club's summer program is 475, and daily attendance is about 300, said Joe Habina, the club's director of operations. Of those, Habina said, about two-thirds of the children take advantage of the free lunches and snacks.

"We have a significant number of kids in our summer program who are on free or reduced lunch and/or Medicaid," Habina said. "They absolutely enjoy the fact that we are able to participate in the free program. It certainly makes the program more appealing to a lot of people in having this free service.

"It's another expense parents don't have to worry about."

Habina said the club's summer program is very affordable, with a three-tiered system ranging from a full rate of $425 for the whole summer; $275 for children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch; and $200 for children who are on Medicaid.

"Our mission is to provide programs for families who need us," Habina explained. "We're happy to provide the rates that we do, based on what our mission is."

People may not think about the year-round nutrition needs of children on free and reduced-price lunches, Farmer said. But during the summer, they still need to eat.