Wake County leaders are reminding families about a program that offers free lunches to children while school is out for the summer.
The county hosted an event Thursday to spread the word about the Summer Food Service Program, which will feed young people through Aug. 12.
“It is very important that no child is left behind related to getting a nutritious meal,” said James West, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, during the event at Gethsemane Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southeast Raleigh. The church is one of 167 sites where children can receive free meals.
Nearly 56,000 youth in Wake County are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school, according to county data. The federally funded Summer Food Service Program helps fill a need during the summer when traditional-calendar schools are on break.
Families do not have to apply or show proof of income to take part in the program.
Last summer, Wake served more than 269,000 meals. The goal this summer is to increase that number by 110,000, said Regina Petteway, director of Wake County Human Services.
Across North Carolina, breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack or a combination of meals is served at more than 2,500 sites, including churches and community centers.
On Thursday, Ching Tse, a rising senior at Enloe High School and founder of the student-led nonprofit Food Ark, called on everyone to help shift ideas surrounding food insecurity.
Many parents and children are embarrassed to take part in programs that provide free help, she said.
“There’s a stigma behind being hungry and in need,” Tse said, recalling her own experience with being bullied in elementary school. “Make us feel empowered about the things that we’re engaged in. We need to change the dialogue of what it means to be hungry. ... Food is a basic human right.”
Two N.C. State University football players talked about the importance of nutritious food and exercise for student athletes. After a lunch provided by the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, the players led a group of children in exercises.
This year, Wake has partnered with 167 agencies to provide meals, and it is still accepting applications from groups.
County Commissioner Matt Calabria asked the community to support programs that help poor residents.
“We’re going to be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable communities in our area,” he said.
To find program sites in Wake, go to http://bit.ly/29ygtJn.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler