Free meals for kids

Free meals for kids

Even when school is out there are still mouths to feed. When parents head to work in the summer months, they shouldn’t have to wonder where their kids can get the good nutrition they will need for an active season.

The Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna Boys and Girls Clubs, Soldotna’s Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library, and The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank all serve meals to fill small bellies, specifically anyone 18-years-old or younger.

“Children learn and practice social skills while eating at the table together,” said Executive Director of the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Clubs Heather Schloeman. “Meal times are a down time where kids socialize with one another and make new friends. Children are also encouraged to try new foods by seeing other children eating them.”

Schloeman said good food, served at the Boys and Girls Clubs through the Summer Food Service Program, incentivizes children to take the leap and join their peers in the organization’s fun games and goings-on. Last summer more than 17,500 meals were handed out through the program, she said.

“Boys and Girls Clubs summer programs are filled with a wide variety of fun and engaging activities,” Schloeman said. “Youth will participate in academic and enrichment programs such as STEM opportunities, sports and recreational games, art and craft activities, science, cooking, Summer Brain Gain, field trips, the ever popular Slip’N Slide and more.”

Breakfast and an afternoon snack will be provided at the Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna locations Monday through Friday, May 31-Aug. 5, Schloeman said. The Kenai Teen Center and Soldotna Teen Center will serve an afternoon snack and the Kenai Teen Center will also offer dinner Monday through Saturday, May 19-Aug. 22, she said.

The summer programs are divided into two sessions, held Monday through Friday, Schloeman said.

“Summer programs also provide educational enrichment and recreational activities along with meals and snacks, helping children to learn and stay safe when school is not in session,” Schloeman said.

Kids who get in line do not need to be members of the clubs. Meals will be served to all community kids and teens and there is no need to call or sign up ahead of time, Schloeman said.

The Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library will also serve up free meals from 1-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday all summer except June 10 and July 4, said KJ Hillgren, the library’s youth services librarian.

“(Librarian) Rachel Nash made the decision to do so because we have the space and resources to provide meals for kids and expectant mothers,” she said. “We strongly believe that the library, especially when school is out, is an important resource for families in our community.”

Most days the library has scheduled activities immediately after mealtime so that “families don’t have to choose between a story time and a meal,” Hillgren said. She explained that having access to meals is essential for growing children.

“Hungry kids can’t focus, can’t learn, and may suffer developmental delays,” Hillgren said. “Food insecurity is associated with truancy, asthma, oral health and behavior problems. Hungry expectant mothers are more likely to experience complications with their pregnancy and deliver low birth-weight babies.”

If any of these options don’t work for kids, anyone in the community is invited to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day, including children with families, said Food Bank Executive Director Linda Swarner. Soups or a main dish, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salad, fruit and desserts will all be served every day, she said.

Swarner said 25 percent more children ate at the diner last summer than ate there during the school year.

“Many of these children eat free and reduced lunches during the school year and in the summer we are feeding their parents as well in the diner, she said. “It’s important that children have access to nutritional food throughout the summer for better overall health. During the summer, children are at a higher risk of both obesity and hunger and the meals eaten here curb those hunger pains.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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