ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
Summer vacation is here and while children will spend their days having fun and unwinding from school, an extra concern for many local youngsters is 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 Thursdays, with the program beginning June 5 and running through July 27. Meals will be available at the Recreation Center (950 S. Grant Avenue), Liberal Memorial Library (519 N. Kansas Avenue), Blue Bonnet Park (1101 W. 8th Street), Light Park (1100 N. Kansas Ave.) and Mary Frame Park (200-298 E. Pancake Blvd). All students attending summer school will receive a breakfast and lunch at their school. Children are allowed one lunch per day and must be present to receive a meal, and no parent pick up will be allowed. USD No. 480 Food Services Director Connie Vogts said last year’s iteration of the program went very well.
“Last year’s participation was normal/average compared to past years, and we typically see a good chunk of children come by for these lunches,” Vogts said. “The cafeteria staff feels we provided a valuable service to the children and parents of the community, and we want to continue to provide a service that helps the families in the community, and ensure that any child who needs a meal can get it at no cost.”
Overall, Vogts said, there are many benefits to participating in the program.
“The Summer Food Service Program is a great program to help parents provide lunch meals to the children in the community. The cost of food is constantly going up, which means there is less money to buy food for homes,” Vogts said. “If we can provide four lunches a week for each child, that can sure help parents out. There are no applications or paperwork to complete, all the child has to do is be between the ages of 1 and 18 and show up at the Summer Feeding site closest to them. 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. 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. We also do all the work in preparing the meals, which are all pretty simple to begin with, so it also helps in the sense that the parents don't have to stress about finding something to cook for lunch, these meals are already prepared and ready to go. And that also goes along with safety, the parents can rest assured while they're at work that their children actually have food ready for them and they don't have to turn on the stove or anything else to prepare it. It's basically like hitting a big 'Easy' button.”
Vogts said there are also benefits to USD 480 with having the program in place.
“It's a win-win situation because we are able to provide food to children who need it and it allows some of USD 480's cafeteria staff to continue working and bring home a paycheck during the summer months, which means they are more likely to stay with their cafeteria job and not have to go look for work elsewhere. It helps us retain our staff,” Vogts said. “It's always nice to see the kids over the summer and hear about what they are doing and how their summer is going. Kids need to know there is somewhere they can go get food if they need it. So many parents are working and older siblings are the ones looking after the younger ones, so it makes a little less work for them if they don't have to prepare a meal on top of babysitting.”
Vogts said she hopes to see high turnout this summer for the program.
“I would just like to encourage the community to use this service during the summer months. I would also remind parents again that children MUST be present to get a meal – parents cannot pick up meals to take home if the children are not with the parent,” Vogts said. “Also, for daycare providers, you are welcome to load up the kids or walk them to a Summer feeding site but cannot pick up meals to take back. That is a big change with the program this year. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone throughout the summer.”