High demand for children’s box meals

Dawn Einsel

Last year, the Summer Food Program for Children fed the youth of Portage County more than 39,000 free meals. This June alone, 13,305 brown, box-breakfasts and lunches have been given out, and the numbers continue to rise each day.

Twelve sites throughout the county, including locations in Kent, Ravenna and Windham, will be operating until Aug. 20, and at designated times throughout the week. The Community Action Council runs the program and has been opening and expanding sites in qualified areas for more than 30 years.

Nancy Hose, summer food program coordinator, said that site eligibility is determined by census and school data. The amount of students who access the free and reduced lunch program during the school year is compared to the total enrollment.

“If 75 percent qualify, then everyone gets to eat,” said Hose.

She said the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Board of Education, is open to the public. The only requirement is age. Children must be younger than 18 years old in order to receive a free meal.

Judy Taylor, senior coordinator for the Kent City Parks and Recreation Department, said attendance isn’t extremely high aside from the children who are already at the center for the department’s School Age Summer Day Camp.

“We advertise in schools and put fliers out constantly,” said Taylor. “So kids can continue getting meals as they do through the school year.”

The USDA puts out a pattern for all meals, which requires specific amounts of each food group.

Taylor and Hose both said some of the favorite items included peanut butter and jelly bars and chips and salsa, but each meal includes some kind of meat and cheese sandwich, a fruit or vegetable, milk and a sweet treat.

The CAC does daily and weekly summaries in order to track how many meals are given out each day and needed for the next.

“The whole program is worth it once you go to a site and see a child who just eats and eats,” said Hose. “You know they are eating because they are hungry.”

Kids in the Kent area can go to The Kent City Recreation Center across from Holden Elementary School Monday through Friday to take advantage of the program. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

For more information on Summer Food Program sites, contact the Community Action Council of Portage County at 330- 297-1456.

Contact entertainment reporter Dawn Einsel at [email protected].