It was only the second time they tried it, but the children at Northeast Youth Center behaved like they’d always sat down for a hot meal in the late afternoon.
On Monday, 45 active children in blinking sneakers and brightly colored T-shirts lined up for a teriyaki chicken sandwich, green beans, orange slices and milk as part of a new meal program at the Hillyard-based youth center.
“We are pretty excited about this,” said Kate Zehner Green, executive director and accounts manager at the youth center, while watching the children eat. “This is why we are here. There is such a need in this neighborhood.”
The Child and Adult Care Food Program is administered by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s aimed at serving children and teens in low-income neighborhoods.
Green said the youth center had been working on bringing in an after-school meal program for some time, but once the center applied for this program, it took less than a month to get it going.
She explained that the meals are prepared in accordance with USDA recommendations and that the ingredients have to be purchased – they can’t be donated.
“We can spend about $2.70 for a meal for one person,” Green said. “And then we are reimbursed at the end of the month.”
The meal program is open to anyone in the neighborhood who’s younger than 18, and sign-up is not required.
“The most we can fit in here is 90 people, I believe,” Green said.
The new meal program also makes it possible for the youth center to serve a hot late afternoon meal on Saturday.
The youth center has been struggling for some time to maintain its funding. It’s operated by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, and it’s one of very few youth programs in the Hillyard area. During summer break, as many as 140 children attend day camp at the center.
“We finally have more secure funding,” Green said. “The parks department told us to not worry about next year. It’s a relief to know that.”
Community development funds are paying for a commercial kitchen that’s being installed upstairs.
Tile, ventilation and wiring are almost in place, but appliances are still missing.
“We need a commercial stove, pots and pans, and a dishwashing system,” said Green, gesturing toward the open space underneath the restaurant-sized stainless steel hood. “And we need cabinets and countertops.”
With the help of community donations, she said she hopes the kitchen will be ready by June.
Monday’s menu got rave reviews from the diners, even the green beans disappeared.
“It was delicious,” said 9-year-old Alison Bailor, a student at Bemiss Elementary School. “I eat breakfast and snack and lunch at school. This was good.”
Bailor said she’s usually at the youth center until around 4 p.m., and she plans to be there for more dinners.
Green is excited about what the meals mean for the neighborhood’s children and families.
“It’s a little extra help for the parents, and it’s an extra meal for the kids. We are happy we can help out like this.”