Summer free meals for kids program in full swing
(Colorado News Connection) Colorado Governor Jared Polis has proclaimed July "Summer Meals for Kids and Teens Awareness Month," and some 645 sites are serving free meals across the state.
Karen Raines Hunt helped the Laporte Presbyterian Church join a mobile Lunch Lab operated by the Food Bank of Larimer County - offering meals each Wednesday at the church, and at sports camps on the Colorado State University campus.
Hunt - a CSU biology professor and an elder with the church - said all kids age 18 years and younger get an individually wrapped package that looks a little like a present.
"And so they get real excited about opening it up," said Hunt. "It'll be something like a buffalo chicken wrap or a ham and cheese sandwich. There's always some vegetables with ranch dressing, there's always a piece of fruit, and a carton of milk."
To find a free meal site near you, send a text with the word FOOD or COMIDA to 304-304, or visit 'KidsFoodFinder.org.'
Parents do not need to apply for the program, show identification or even accompany their child. Kids can just show up and eat.
Many of Colorado's low-wage families rely on school cafeterias for nutritious food. This past school year, over 76 million meals and snacks were served across the state.
Megan Johnson, nutrition programs manager with the Colorado Department of Education, said the summer meal program - funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture with support from partners such as the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger and Hunger Free Colorado - is important for keeping all Colorado kids on track to succeed.
"The summer meal program really helps to fill that gap when schools are closed," said Johnson, "and it allows kids and teens to have healthy meals so that they can return to school ready to learn."
Summer meal sites include schools, nonprofits, libraries, recreation centers, places of worship, universities, and other community-focused organizations.
Most sites serving free meals also offer activities to help kids avoid backsliding on hard-won academic achievement. Hunt noted that all Lunch Lab participants will also get a gift to help them remember their experience.
"At the beginning of the summer, they get a card," said Hunt. "And so every time they come, they get a punch, and then at the end of the summer they get to pick out a prize. There are a variety of books, games, arts and craft kits for the kids to pick out to take home at the end of the summer.”