ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
During the summer, most children are thinking mostly of where they will be having fun or what friend they will be hanging out with on a given day.
For many children, however, there is an extra concern of how and where they will get meals if their parents are away at work for the day. And for those children, USD No. 480 is there to help. USD No. 480 will be continuing its summer lunch program this summer, and USD No. 480 Food Services will be providing free grab-and-go lunches for any child ages 1 to 18 years old during the Summer Food Program.
Meals will be available for pickup from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with the program beginning June 1 and running through July 29. The program will start at the Recreation Center (950 S. Grant Avenue) and Liberal Memorial Library (519 N. Kansas Avenue) starting June 1, and the meals will also be available at Cottonwood Elementary School (1100 W. 11th Street), Meadowlark Elementary School (1200 N. Calvert Street), and Prairie View Elementary School (615 Warren Avenue) starting June 6, and the schools will have curbside pickup.
“There is a limit of one meal per child per day. Last year, we included a lunch for that day plus a breakfast for the next day, but as we're transitioning back to normal school nutrition operations, this year will just include the lunch,” USD No. 480 Food Services Director Connie Vogts said. “There's no signing up ahead of time or any paperwork to be filled out to participate, but if you're a parent picking up meals and don't have your children with you, you will have to sign a paper stating your name and how many children you're picking up meals for, and that protects the integrity of the program.”
As with past summers, Vogts said she expects high turnout for the summer meals at the various locations.
“There are a lot of working parents in the community, which means the children are home alone without anyone to prepare meals for them, and especially for really young children, it's best for them not to use the stove or oven yet so they stay safe,” Vogts said. “This provides a means for them to get a meal, it helps parents save some money on their grocery bill during the summer, which will definitely be a benefit as we transition more toward our normal operations because next year, families will need to fill out that free/reduced lunch application to qualify for free meals again since the USDA didn't extend the waiver to feed all children for free. Those applications won't be available until after July 1, so we will send those out to the families in the district, and families can also fill those out online.”
With that in mind, Vogts offered encouragement for parents to allow their children to take part in the program for the summer.
“They're healthy, nutritious meals, and they don't cost anything to the students or their parents, so it's a win-win situation for them,” Vogts said. “With Food Services providing these meals, we not only provide nutritious meals, it also provides the chance for some of our Food Services staff to continue working some hours during the summer, and I have just enough staff on hand to work this program for the summer, and I can't praise them enough for everything they do. And throughout the summer, the meals will include hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken sandwiches and things like that, it's not just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich slapped together, there will be some variety with the meals we'll be putting together. And of course we'll also be sure to include fruits and vegetables and those things, so the meals will be well balanced and very good for the children.”
Vogts added there are many other benefits to having the program available for the community’s children, and said she looks forward to seeing how turnout ends up.
“We're excited to continue nourishing the minds and bodies of the children in the community and giving them the nutrition they deserve, because they need it,” Vogts said. “My expectation is we'll see a lot of children come and take advantage of the access to these meals so they'll stay strong and healthy during the summer and keep them going. Especially at the library it's great having it there because there are all those activities to help keep their minds sharp too, and at the Recreation Center there's all the physical activity they can take part in if they go there. We want to help address the whole child with this. It's all about seeing the smiles on the children's faces when they come and pick up their meals, and we also enjoy getting the appreciation from the parents, because again, it does help quite a bit, and in more ways than one. I've noticed the children really enjoy the meal and we always see several repeat 'customers' coming for lunch, which is good because those are the ones who clearly need a program like this and they're benefitting from it being available. We want to see this used as much as possible, it's a great program for the community and the children.”
Overall, Vogts said, she hopes to see as many children as possible take advantage of the program.
“We just encourage children to come out to any of those locations and grab a meal during the summer, and we encourage parents to stay alert for news about what will be going on for next year with free/reduced lunch applications and things like that, that will all becoming up before anyone knows it,” Vogts said. “And like I've said about the program before, we want parents to know first and foremost these meals are available, and we want them to know the meals are free and there's no sign-up process or qualifications or anything like that. All the locations will have these meals available and we welcome every child who comes and gets a lunch with us.”