Lonnie Rouy can rest easy when the clock approaches noon.
The Lucy C. Laney High School student, taking summer courses in the Harriet Tubman Education Center, opens his small white box and starts digging into his food. Today, it’s a cold cut combo with apples.
Lonnie doesn’t have to worry about where his meals are going to come from when he attends his classes, because he can depend on the district’s summer feeding program to keep him well-fed. It keeps him focused throughout his day as he studies.
“It’s helped me,” Lonnie said. “It’s helped all of us here.”
For those who struggle to get food and eat regularly throughout the year, the summer feeding program helps Richmond County students under 18 to continue to receive no-cost meals after Augusta schools close for summer break.
Funded by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s Bright from the Start initiative, the summer feeding program provides meals in feeding centers across Richmond County.
In operation since 1992, the program uses the school district, local youth programs and faith organizations to provide breakfast and lunch to county residents through July. School systems are reimbursed for the services based on the total number of meals per site and the meal type.
“It’s bridging a gap. It’s important that students needing this opportunity are able to receive it year round,” said Falita Flowers, the director of nutrition for Early Care and Learning. “It helps make (sure) students are prepared throughout the school year and ensures they don’t suffer nutritionally.”
Josephine Mack, the Richmond County Board of Education’s director of nutrition, said it’s a necessary service for Augusta-area children, considering that roughly 50 percent of the student population made use of no-cost breakfasts and 84 percent ate no-cost lunches during the school year.
About 2,500 students countywide are served by the summer feeding program every day.
“It helps keep children ready to learn and helps their households deal with this issue,” Mack said. “We’ll either pay on this end or the other end of a child’s life. Hungry children don’t learn. It’s an important part of ensuring student achievement and making sure our students are well taken care of throughout the year.”
Those working at the feeding sites have a similar view.
“It works. We serve food to kids who wouldn’t be eating otherwise,” said Latoya Foreman, one of the workers. “If we didn’t have programs like this, children would go hungry.”
Six school districts statewide use the summer feeding program, while others use the similar Seamless Summer Option, provided by the Georgia Department of Education.