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Schools’ free summer meal programs start Monday

More than 30,000 free meals will be served to children in Danville and Boyle County this summer because once again, both school systems are participating in the Summer Food Service Program through the USDA.

Commonly referred to as the summer feeding program, breakfast, lunch and supper will be served at no cost to those ages 18 and younger at many locations and events throughout the summer. There are no income qualifications, no registration is required and the meal sites are open to every student, regardless of what school district they live in.

From bottom, left, Danville “lunch ladies” and cafeteria managers Debbie Bottoms Annette Bate, second row, Tammy Lynn and Sarah Pianovski and top, Danville Schools Food Services Director April Peach, will be organizing the summer feeding program this summer. Free meals are available to anyone ages 18 and younger. (Photo by Robin Hart)

The healthy meals are provided on a first come, first served basis, but both programs make every effort to ensure no child goes away hungry. Adults are also welcome to eat, however there is a modest cost.

Danville and Boyle’s summer feeding programs begin Monday and run through Aug. 2. Food service directors for each school system hope they can feed even more children than last year and have made a few schedule changes and added more sites where meals will be provided.

Boyle Schools Food Service Director Katie Ellis said she has scheduled meals to be served at 11 sites and would welcome more opportunities to partner with other groups and locations. “We want to find sites that are a good fit for our families.”

From Boyle’s needs survey that was conducted last year, Ellis said, “We heard a resounding need for this sort of programing that will bridge a gap for our families of all walks of life.”

Ellis has also talked to “a few hundred families” about the summer feeding program. “I got great feedback from those who have participated and from those who weren’t knowledgeable about the program. Raising awareness is essential because families may not know it’s available to them,” Ellis said. “We know there’s a need and we want to make sure that the families know that this is an option.”

She said it’s completely free, and there’s no requirement to answer any questions to qualify. “You come on our site as a child 18 and under, and we’re going to give you a nice meal,” Ellis said.

Boyle’s program will also be providing meals to children participating in activities at the William E. Bunny Davis Recreation Center and at churches holding Bible school. She said these are open sites, so even though a child may not be participating in the organized activities, they are still welcome to come and eat during the scheduled times.

This summer, Ellis also hopes to partner with local farmers so meals would include fresh fruits and vegetables when available. She’ll be purchasing melons locally and may be able to buy homegrown cherry and grape tomatoes to add to the meals.

Typical breakfast options include muffins, yogurt, chicken and biscuits and cereal. Lunch entrees “will look a lot like our school-year entrees that they love,” including hamburgers, quesadillas, ham-and-cheese hoagies and baked calzones.

Ellis said starting in July, they’re going to start testing some new meals that might be added to the upcoming school year menu. Buffalo chicken wraps, chicken and waffles, and grilled chicken clubs are some of the items she wants to try and see if students like.

“To me, it’s really important to get that feedback before we plan and solidify our menu next year. It’s a great way to do that.” The summer feeding program is “our time to be a little bit more creative than we get to be during the school year and to try some things and hopefully find some things they will really come to like in the menus here,” Ellis said.

Danville’s feeding program has added four new sites this summer. It’s also continuing the mobile bus route, which travels to five different locations in order to reach more children, said Danville Food Services Director April Peach.

When the bus stops at Constitution Square, “It’s like a Norman Rockwell setting because you get people from all backgrounds coming up to it. And that’s what’s so wonderful about it,” said Debbie Bottoms, a team leader for the feeding program and cafeteria manager at Toliver Intermediate School.

Children come from all over town, Bottoms said. “They are all coming together. It’s just wonderful.”

This year a “sharing table” will be at each location, Peach said. If a child doesn’t care for an item in the prepackaged meal, like fruit, veggies or wrapped cookie (things that won’t spoil) they can put it on the table for someone else to eat or take home for a snack.

But children aren’t the only ones who are fed by the summer program, Peach said. A few folks who use a local Meals on Wheels program can purchase a meal from the mobile school unit when it stops at Imperial Mobile Home Park on days when they don’t have a meal delivered, Peach said.

“That is awesome,” she said.

In June, free suppers will be available in Millennium Park from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, enabling children who are playing ball games and their siblings to eat for free. It will also be convenient for parents, Bottoms said. “They can go to the park and let their kids eat and they don’t have to worry about going home and cooking.”

Peach said the “lunch ladies” use their own vehicles to deliver meals to each site. And most of them have vans and SUVs. “They’re buying their cars based on summer feeding,” Peach said light-heartedly.

Other cafeteria managers who are site team leaders are Tammy Lynn, Sarah Pianovski, Annette Bate and Robin Gilliam.

When serving meals at churches, daycares and day camps, every child is welcome to come and eat, Peach said. Like Boyle County’s program, children don’t have to be participating in the organized event to be allowed to eat, Peach said. They don’t even have to live in Danville or Boyle County.

“We won’t turn anyone away,” Peach said.

On the rare occasions when meals are depleted before every child is fed, the site worker calls the kitchen at Toliver where all of the meals are prepared and packaged. Workers quickly prepare more meals and someone delivers them to the site. “We tell the kids to wait just a few minutes and we’ll have more,” Pianovski said.

Peach said they served well over 18,000 meals last summer. And since they’ve added more sites, she looks for that number to rise. “Our goal is to serve more than 20,000.”

Bottoms said the feeding program isn’t just for lower-income families. “It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor. If they’re 18 and under, they get to eat for free.”

ONLINE

See an online map of all summer feeding program locations, along with times and dates for each, by visiting bit.ly/BoyleSummerFeeding2019.