Hundreds of volunteers will unite this summer to serve up to 1,600 local children with fresh meals five days a week.
Food for the Summer meals will be prepared at McDougle Middle School from June 13 to Aug. 12 and handed out to volunteers, who will deliver it to about 20 Chapel Hill and Carrboro locations. Some locations would serve neighborhoods, while others would be reserved for children attending specific programs, including the YMCA and Hargraves Center in Chapel Hill.
The goal is to make sure children aren’t going hungry while they are out on summer break, organizers said, but also for volunteers to spend time with them, whether through arts and crafts, tutoring, sports or another activity.
Durham-based Book Harvest and the Read2Me: Tailgate Stories program, which already works through the school system to serve 25 neighborhoods, could work on literacy skills.
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“You think about what this is all about,” said PORCH founder and director Susan Romaine. “It’s kids during summer without access to cafeterias. These kids also very often don’t have access to their school libraries. If we can do two for the price of one, let’s try to go for it.”
The Food for the Summer program grew out of a campaign promise that Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger made last fall. It’s modeled on an existing program that the city schools, Varsity Church of Chapel Hill, No Kid Hungry NC and TABLE have offered for the last four years.
Hemminger worked with those groups this year to expand the program, bringing in town officials and other agencies, including the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, PORCH, UNC, the YMCA and Book Harvest.
“We’re all going to learn a lot by the first week,” Hemminger said. “The first week, we’ll have seen kids come and go, and we’ll get a better feel for if we need more at a site or less at a site and shift the resources around.”
The number of children needing food help has increased in the last couple of years, said Ashton Tippins, TABLE’s executive director. About one in four students in the city schools are “food insecure,” meaning they sometimes go without food or adequate nutrition.
The district reported last fall that 3,068 of its 12,272 students were enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. The program provides free and reduced-price lunches, a common measure of poverty. That food safety net does not exist for many students after school breaks for summer.
The problem is growing nationwide.
Nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children, lived in food-insecure households, according to the nonprofit group No Kid Hungry.
The USDA Summer Food Service Program expects to serve 200 million meals to hungry children this summer, however, most programs report serving fewer than 15 percent of eligible children.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could send information about the program home with students this month. The program’s website – foodforthesummer.org – has links for signing up as a volunteer or making donations and will be updated with links to other food resources and menus.
Teen and adult volunteers are critical for filling up to 2,500 shifts this summer, Varsity Church Pastor Chad Simpkins said. There will be multiple opportunities, with different requirements and time commitments, he said. Food pickup, service and cleanup could run from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Organizers are planning to help local high school students earn service learning credits for volunteering.
Funding also will be important.
Last year’s summer food program lost a large amount of money, said Liz Cartano, dining director for the school system’s Child Nutrition Office, even though the federal Summer Food Service Program reimburses local agencies for meals served to low-income children.
UNC and an anonymous donor have contributed $5,000 to the program, and other grants are possible. But more money is needed, program coordinator Katie Hug said, to hire additional help to run the community sites and programs.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, but the only thing paid by the government is the meals themselves,” Hug said.
Food for the Summer lunch sites will be identified over the next month. Find out more, sign up to volunteer or make a donation at foodforthesummer.org.