Here’s some food for thought: This summer, Spokane Public Schools will serve about 110,000 breakfasts and lunches as part of its Summer Meals Program.
That’s because hunger doesn’t end with the school year.
Fortunately for some needy families, neither does fun.
On Monday, three of those meals were going down ever so joyfully at the end of a table in the cafeteria at Finch Elementary School in northwest Spokane.
Three girls from three different schools were giggling so hard that the chocolate milk they’d just consumed was poised to return through their noses.
“We like to play,” said 7-year-old Elodie Leach, who just finished first grade at Willard Elementary.
The fun was shared with Reese Frye, a 7-year-old from Browne Elementary; and the ringleader, 8-year-old Aubree Carpenter, who’s just out of second grade at Finch.
The three were there for the Summer Express Program, a full-day licensed childcare complete with field trips and other enriching activities.
They were also at Finch for the food offered through the Summer Meals Program, a federally-funded offering that’s been available in Spokane since the early 1980s.
The goal is to ensure that children from low-income areas continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer. The programs are open to children 18 years and younger, and no registration is required.
Parents may accompany their children but must bring their own meals.
Similar services are available in all major school districts. The meals are varied and nutritious and are served at 43 schools around the city.
On Monday at Finch, the fare included corn dogs, fruit and vegetables. Carpenter disdained the cornmeal and went straight for the hot dog, while others ate every bite.
Some have no choice; the need is that great for thousands of families, many of whom don’t know about the summer program offered by the the United States Department of Agriculture.
Of the more than 30 million children served during the school year, barely one-tenth take advantage of the summer program.
Doug Wordell, the nutrition services director for Spokane Public Schools, recalls a former superintendent encountering a student who was so hungry that he had just sprinted from another school, arriving just in time to get another breakfast.
Many families simply need a break with food costs.
Sheila Leone arrived at Finch with her four children, Aden, Robbie, Abigail and Bristol. Their plates were clean within 20 minutes.
“It’s going to help our budget a lot,” said Leone, who struggled to say what her family would forgo without the Summer Meal Program.
Other families were scattered among the roughly 100 people at Finch.
Jennifer Stewart also brought four children – Emma, Ethan, Lexie and Andrew – who also downed every bite.
“We really appreciate the program,” Stewart said,
In the absence of such programs, “it’s usually the kids who are hit the hardest,” Wordell said. “You just hope these kids have advocates.”
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