Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 18, 2017

Free summer lunch program expands

Program to run almost two months instead of one
By Nicole Major, Ledger staff writer | May 03, 2017
Photo by: LEDGER ARCHIVE PHOTO Fairfield Community School District will provide free lunches nearly all summer at four locations: Fairfield Middle School, Fairfield Public Library, the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center and Howard Park.

School is out at the end of May, and just over one week later, youth up to age 18 will be able to go to four locations throughout Fairfield and enjoy a healthy lunch free of charge, thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.

The program provides healthy meals to low-income youth up to age 18 throughout the summer nationwide, and this year marks the first that the Fairfield Community School District will provide free lunch for nearly the entire summer at Fairfield Middle School, the Fairfield Public Library, the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center and Howard Park.

“I’m so excited! Summer food is my ‘happy place,’” said FCSD food services director Stephanie Hawkins, admitting that she enjoys feeding children all of the time.

Hawkins said the previous summer food program lasted four weeks, while the expanded program is 56 days long. Lunch times are as follows: 11-11:20 a.m. at Howard Park; 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. at FMS; 11:30 a.m. – noon at the library and 12:15-12:45 p.m. at the recreation center.

“It’s from June 8 through Aug. 25. It’s five days a week,” she said, explaining that the week off after school ends and the week off before school starts would give cafeteria workers a break. However, she called the summer lunch program a double win because it would provide more hours for district cafeteria employees.

“For at-risk kids, they will be able to see their lunch ladies at the sites — the same people who have served them throughout the year — that’s huge for kids,” she said.

Hawkins said the free summer meal would provide basic nutrition for kids, while simultaneously giving parents a break.

“[Parents] have different things going on a lot of times; now, they don’t have to stop what they are doing to worry about getting to McDonald’s to make sure that their kids are eating lunch this summer,” she said, explaining that there are no individual income requirement for the program.

“Anyone old enough to eat solid food up to age 18 is welcome to come,” she said, further explaining that the reason any child in the district would be able to benefit from the program is due to the fact that the district has an attendance center where 50 percent of those students are on either free or reduced lunch.

“When you have a community like ours, we look for spots of concentrations of poverty and that’s what’s targeted,” she said, adding that Pence Elementary is an attendance center where 61 percent of the building is on free or reduced lunches.

Hawkins met with the library and recreation center to get approval to open up sites at those locations, which are in the vicinity of Pence.

“Howard Park was qualified by [U.S.] Census data,” she said. “I was just looking at whether we could be on other sides of town that qualified where kids could get free lunch and they wouldn’t have to walk to the other side of town to get it.”

Hawkins said once sites are in place, it doesn’t matter if a child qualifies for free lunch during the  school year or not.

“Any child can come and have lunch,” she said.

Hawkins said adults over the age of 18 could also enjoy lunch for $3.50. However, children would be served first.

Hawkins said that the recreation center, library and Howard Park would likely have activities for children either during or around lunch as well.

“You don’t have to be a member of the rec center to have free lunch there, but they will be having reasonably priced activities for children, too. So after their activity, they could have free lunch and then after lunch, the outdoor pool opens 15 minutes later,” she said, adding that there is a possibility that games might be offered at Howard Park around lunch time.

“We have a program Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the name of it is ‘Summer Mania’ and it’s from 11 a.m. – noon,” said Calvin Todd, director of Fairfield Parks and Recreation. “It’s basically fun activities for elementary and middle school kids, and it’s free with the park and rec membership, but the kids’ memberships are only $10 for the entire month.” Todd said the membership includes activities, such as basketball, racquetball, ping pong, batting cages, indoor soccer and more.

“We’ve got all sorts of activities — they can do a lot,” he said.

As for offering the summer lunch program to all kids in the community, regardless of their membership status, he called that one a “no-brainer.”

“The summer lunch program is a great program. When you’re able to give back to the community, that’s pretty much a no-brainer,” he said.

"Stephanie Hawkins is just amazing; She's got her stuff together and we were just able to reap the benefits," said childrens' librarian Afton Hallauer. "We were lucky to get her. I feel like it's wonderful that kids aren't going to have to hike to a site for lunch, there are places all over town.One thing that we felt really strongly about is that we had programs for them to do that were lined up with the lunches.They can enjoy their lunch and for the majority of days, they will have something fun to do after that at the library."

Hallauer said every Tuesday and Wednesday there would be activities, and that kids could even practice their reading with Doris Slocum to help keep their reading skills sharp over the summer.

"Friday's is book club/movie club day," Hallauer said. "Because we are supported by grants and library book sales, we are able to offer all of these programs for free. All of these things will start right after 1 p.m. so kids will finish eating and then move right into an activity."

“They don’t have to be consistent where they eat. We’ve got really good coverage, so one day they could eat at the library, another day they could eat at the rec center,” she said. “Even if you’re out of town, you could text the summer food number and find the closest summer food site to you – this is nationwide.”

Hawkins said that once the district transitions to grade alike in the fall, the program would be able to expand to more sites around the district, including Lockridge since the way the attendance center is counted would change.

Hawkins said that, during summer school, free breakfast would be offered to any student from 8-8:30 a.m. She said she planned to offer free books to students during lunch, but she needed $1,000 to see it through to fruition.

“People can donate to the school and earmark it for Summer Food Books,” she said.

For more information, contact Hawkins at 472-2655 ext. 6703.

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