Chesterfield County’s public schools and libraries are teaming up with No Kid Hungry to feed children for free this summer.
No Kid Hungry is a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
“We first heard about the summer lunch program in 2015 from the USDA and the Library of Virginia,” said Jennifer Shepley, manager of Community Services at the Chesterfield County Public Library. “The program was established to ensure children continue to receive healthy meals when school is not in session. Meals served at summer sites play an important role in alleviating food insecurity and hunger in those children most in need when meals are not available through the National School Lunch Program.”
The need for childhood food assistance in the county can be seen in the numbers reflected in school lunch and breakfast programs.
Rebecca Bryant, fiscal technician of Food and Nutrition Services at Chesterfield County Schools, reports that during the 2016-2017 school year, there were 3,126,561 free meals and 571,526 reduced meals served compared with 2,318,553 paid meals. The numbers were similar for the 2017-2018 school year.
Summer is the “hungriest time of the year” for kids because those who rely on school meals struggle to get enough to eat during the summer months, according to the charity.
Only 15 percent of kids who qualify for free school meals are getting free summer meals, according to No Kid Hungry. Lots of barriers stand in their way: meal sites can be hard to get to, may have limited hours and might not be open in extreme heat or bad weather.
“Public libraries are great places to host summer meals since kids are already in the libraries during the summer,” Shepley said, noting the meals served has grown over the years. “In summer 2015, we served 1,085 lunches at the Ettrick-Matoaca, Chester and Meadowdale libraries. And in summer 2017, CCPL served 3,696 meals at the Ettrick-Matoaca, LaPrade, Chester and Meadowdale libraries.”
All meals follow nutrition guidelines from the USDA. Most participating libraries will have fun activities during the mealtime.
There are no applications to fill out. Ages 18 and under are welcome; they just need to show up to be fed.
Meals are served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday from July 9 to Aug. 2 at libraries in Chester, Ettrick-Matoaca, LaPrade and Meadowdale.
“Kids will be able to get a healthy body and a healthy mind,” said James Hudson, branch manager at Meadowdale Library. “We will have board games, arts and crafts, and other activities available along with the meal.”