Along with keeping four grandchildren boredom-free through summer afternoons, it’s Teresa Lee’s job to keep their stomachs from grumbling.
She tries to have turkey sandwiches or green salads fixed for them on the table, but that’s not always so easy.
During the school year, Lee’s grandchildren and thousands of other students are entitled to the free breakfast and lunch program offered by the Richmond County School System, but when summer hits, the responsibility falls to families that often need help.
To fill the nutritional void that some families feel when school is out, the system is offering a no-cost summer feeding program to all students 18 years and younger. The program, funded by Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s Bright From the Start, serves breakfast and lunch at 63 locations across the county until the end of July.
“It’s nice to have a place for the kids to eat,” Lee said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ll have from one day to the next, so this helps.”
The system’s nutrition director, Josephine Mack, said the schools provided 91,000 breakfasts and lunches last summer. It has been in operation since 1992 and joins at some locations with other camps and youth programs.
Because 71 percent of Richmond County students qualify for free lunches and 6 percent for reduced-price meals, Mack said there is a need for the district to step in so kids don’t go hungry.
“These meals are the same meals the children are used to during the regular school year,” Mack said. “With the economy how it is and with some family situations, we just want them to have the food they’re used to when school is in. …”
On Friday, Lee’s grandchildren enjoyed a lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cheese stick, Goldfish crackers, fruit cup and milk at May Park Community Center, where about 30 youngsters eat each day.
The Bright From the Start program funds summer feeding operations in four school districts across Georgia, but many others are funded by the state Department of Education’s Seamless Summer Option, according to Falita Flowers, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning Nutrition Program’s manager.
School systems are reimbursed based on the total number of meals served per site per meal type. Flowers said the program is vital for making sure children are not missing out on meals just because school is out.
“You may have (a) situation where children are not receiving a good, quality meal while out during the summer,” Flowers said. “This allows children to have access to a healthy meal.”