In Lucas County, one in four children does not know where the next meal is coming from; more than 30,000 live at or below the poverty level.
A child should never go hungry, and Monday through Friday throughout the summer, Lucas County children have no reason to.
Nearly 100 neighborhood sites across the county are providing children 18 and under with nutritious, balanced meals for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
The Lucas County Summer Food Program kicked off at Garfield Elementary School on Friday, with representatives from Feed Lucas County Children, ProMedica, United Way, the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo, and Toledo Public Schools, along with 27 children.
For a third consecutive year, these community organizations, agencies, and businesses have collaborated to make the summer food and educational program available for all children.
“This is an exciting time,” said Dr. Romules L. Durante, the selected interim superintendent of Toledo Public Schools. “You’re talking about a true example of collective work.”
Collectively, Feed Lucas County Children, and the YMCA and JCC will provide 380,000 meals.
Tony Siebeneck, executive director of Feed Lucas County, said he estimates his organization will provide 320,000 of those meals, or up to 4,500 meals per day. The organization has been serving hot summer meals to children since 2002.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, nearly 820,000 Ohio children were enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs in February. In October, 69.42 percent of Toledo Public School children were enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs.
But food is just one piece of summer food program. While Feed Lucas County Children provides hot meals at participating sites, those sites will also provide educational programming. The YMCA and JCC are also sponsoring food and educational programming at Kid Express sites such as Garfield Elementary.
Sarah Otis, vice president of child development for the YMCA and JCC, said reading, math, and physical education programs after lunch will help prevent students from experiencing the “summer learning slide.”
“We bring in education that supports learning to prevent students from losing what they learned in the school year," she said.
Schools and church organizations provide the volunteers.
For the food portion of the program, the YMCA and JCC and Feed Lucas County Children are being reimbursed through federal dollars, ranging from 80 cents for a snack to up to $3.47 a meal, depending on the meal type, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Ohio Department of Education.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), praised Toledo's nutritional and educational enrichment programs and said it may be Ohio's most successful state feeding program.
Third grader Anthony Barnes, 9, brought his 4-year-old brother Ben to lunch Friday and said he liked the ham and cheese burrito and vegetables.
“It’s fun. I get to see most of my friends and the activities are awesome. I like gym most, but I like reading and math, too,” Anthony said.
Although the Summer Food Program is available from mid-June to mid-August, each site is unique. While some sites are open all summer, others may only be open in July. And while some might offer breakfast and lunch, others will provide lunch and a snack or only dinner.
Kate Summerfeld, a community impact specialist for United Way, said families and children should call 211 or visit unitedwaytoledo.org throughout the summer to find the nearest available site.
“My fear is that a child who learns about this program in July will visit a site that is only open in June and closed in July. We don’t want a hungry child to go to a site that is no longer open,” she said.
Contact Danielle Trubow at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.