Schools' summer meal program sees growth
The Storm Lake Schools' Summer Food program seems to be gaining some traction.
So far this season, the program is averaging about 200 meals per day.
"Attendance is up from last year," Ashley Keene said while cleaning up after a lunch crowd of 90 on Friday. "There are a lot of new faces. I think the word is getting out there that this is available."
The schools started the program a couple of years ago, fearing that low income families might not be able to provide nutritious meals when school is out for the summer, in a community where three out of every four students come from families that qualify for school lunch aid.
The program is grant-funded, so showing participation is important to keeping it going.
The servers say they are ready to welcome even bigger crowds.
"We're used to serving 2,500 kids during the school year, bring it on," says Ashely.
The summer lunch program follows the same nutrition guidelines as meals served in schools during the academic year - and faces the same challenge of meeting nutrition needs while finding foods that kids will eat.
"During school, we normally have three choices for hot entree, and in the summer there is just one, so we have to find things that a lot of people will like," Keene said. "The favorites for the kids of course are going to be pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs - but even with these, we incorporate whole grains and follow guidelines on sodium and fat, so these aren't the same product you would get at Walmart or fast food."
Meanwhile, the servers push fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal, which are served on an unlimited basis.
Families, the staff finds, are grateful for the resource. "We have groups come in from The Bridge and day care homes, but we're seeing more kids coming in with their parent or parents," Keene said. While meals are free for those age 1-18, an adult can eat with a child for $3.55 for lunch. "They get unlimited fruits and veggies, too, so it's a pretty good deal."
Through June 21, Summer Food program breakfast is served Monday-Thursday at the middle school, 8-8:30 a.m., with lunch there Monday-Thursday 11:30-12:30 (the location accommodates students in summer school programs at the middle school, though the site is open for all.
Lunch is also served at the United Methodist Church through June 29; and July 9-27, 11:30-1 p.m. at the United Methodist Church only.
"Finding a central location in Storm Lake is pretty difficult, so we are very lucky that the church allows us to use their facilities - they have been very good to us," Keene says.
There are no qualifications or registrations, the meals are free for all children who come.