Free meals during summer months help make sure youngsters don’t go hungry
SALISBURY — For many children in Rowan County, summer break doesn’t just mean the end of classes, tests and homework.
It also can mean the end of the breakfast and lunch they get every school day, at low or no cost.
But through participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer food program, the Rowan-Salisbury School System offers free meals in the summertime to children in Rowan County.
“We’re like a bridge between the end of school and the beginning of school,” said Lisa Altmann, child nutrition officer with the school system. “We provide meals to children in the community over the summer.”
The school system serves an average of 900 breakfasts and 1,200 lunches every weekday at 45 to 50 meal sites throughout the county. Some of the sites are income-restricted, and others are only available to children signed up for certain camps.
But many are open sites, where any child age 2 to 18 can eat for free.
Crystal Grady said she takes her two children to the open meal site at Pine Hills Apartments every day for breakfast and lunch.
“A lot of people around here don’t have food to feed their kids,” she said. “It helps me out a lot.”
Lisa Reynolds agreed that the program is convenient for parents.
“We get food throughout the month, but this helps make our personal food last longer,” she said. “And it gives the kids a chance to interact with other kids.”
The food is prepared at Carson High School and delivered on four climate-controlled trucks that drive to different areas of the county.
“We’ll get some kids that will run up Monday morning and give you a big hug and tell you they’re so happy, because they haven’t eaten since Friday,” Altmann said. “Some kids run to an ice cream truck. These kids run to a breakfast and lunch truck.”
Mary Sprinkle, child nutrition manager at East Rowan High School and manager of the summer food program, travels with one of the trucks to hand out the breakfast and lunch bags. She smiled and laughed with the children as they greeted her energetically.
“You get a real feel-good feeling, making sure the kids get a meal,” Sprinkle said. “And the kids are so sweet.”
Children must eat in the presence of a site supervisor, Altmann said, to ensure that the meals aren’t going to adults.
“We try to give the kids fresh produce, like apples, grapes, carrots and bananas,” Altmann said.
The lunches are also packed with familiar foods kids love to eat during the school year, including the ever-popular personal pizza.
Altmann said the program is looking to set up more open sites, especially in western and southeastern Rowan County.
Closed sites also can make life easier for parents, children and camp officials.
Quinta Ellis, director of Camp 3165, held at Sills Creek AME Zion Church on Bradshaw Road near Mooresville, said her program — which costs parents $50 a week — would be very different without the federally funded meals.
“It eliminates a huge amount of money for us to be able to do other things — provide them with more technology, more experiments and other fun activities throughout the program,” Ellis said.
Tonya Cornelius, the camp administrator, also said she appreciates the summer meal program.
“We love it,” Cornelius said. “It was a big expense we would have to incur.”
On one recent day, children eating lunch eagerly ran out to the truck to get their pizza — the food that many of them said is their favorite at the meal sites.
But Quincy Rowland, 6, said he likes the grape slushie. It’s made of 100 percent frozen grape juice.
“This is a complete meal,” Cornelius said. “They’re getting meat, grain, fruit, dairy and vegetables.”
Samuel Jones, 8, said his favorite summer meal item is the ham sandwich, and lunch is one of his favorite parts of camp.
“It’s really delicious,” he said.
Camp 3165 works to keep kids learning in fun ways, Cornelius said. That way, they don’t forget what they’ve already learned, and they have a “jump start” into the next school year. They take field trips and participate in service projects together in addition to educational camp activities.
Technically, Sills Creek is a closed meal site for children who attend the camp, but Cornelius said she wouldn’t turn away those looking for something to eat. The camp is also open to anyone, not just members of the church.
For more information about the Summer Food Service Program, call Rowan-Salisbury School System Child Nutrition Services at 704-630-6047.