New project feeds children during summer

UCPS, Boys and Girls Club team up for free lunches

by Josh Whitener

MONROE – Thanks to a joint effort between the Union County Public Schools Child Nutrition Department and the Boys and Girls Club at Monroe Middle School, children won’t have to go hungry this summer.

The two parties have teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program Seamless Summer Option to provide free lunches to children during the summer. Monday through Thursday, from June 11 to July 12, 300 free lunches will be served in the Monroe Middle cafeteria from noon to 1 p.m. The lunches are available on a first-come, first-served basis to children 18 and younger.

“All you have to do is show up,” John Arrowood, the Child Nutrition Department’s supervisor, said. “People do need to understand the meals are capped at 300, but if there’s a lot more participation, we’ll look at raising the amount.”

UCPS attempted to do something similar two years ago at Rock Rest Elementary, but the effort fell through. Arrowood believes the school’s location prevented the program from being successful.

“You can’t really walk to and from (the school), so we didn’t have much of a turnout,” Arrowood said, adding the county does not have the funds to provide transportation for the children.

Monroe Middle principal Mike Harvey contacted the UCPS Child Nutrition Department about teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club to do something similar. Monroe Middle already provides meals to the members of the Boys and Girls Club, which meets at the school.

“If we can provide a nutritious meal, the students will do better academically,” Harvey said. “If the school can step in and help them with that, I think we’re doing our job. That’s just part of what we’re doing here.”

Harvey and Arrowood both agree the school’s location in the central city of Monroe will attract more participants.

“It’s a great geographic location,” Harvey said. “There’s lots of public housing and apartment complexes within easy walking distance. Lots of students already walk to and from school. Plus, having the Boys and Girls Club here is good, too. Hopefully, they’ll benefit each other.”

To fund the program, UCPS has to front the money for the cost of the meals, including labor, groceries and transportation of necessary items. If the program is a success and children continue to show up, the state will reimburse the school system at a rate of $2.80 to $3 per meal. If not, UCPS has to eat the cost of whatever they spend money on.

Arrowood isn’t sure how much the up-front investment will cost just yet, but he knows the school system is taking a risk committing to this project.

“We don’t get a bucket of money like other parts of the district,” he said. “We have to basically run a business. Once we feed the students, we can be reimbursed, but we have to get them to come eat.”

However, Arrowood said the school system feels a lot more secure about hosting the program this time because of its location at Monroe Middle.

“We feel pretty confident, with the economy the way it’s been, that by positioning it in the inner city, we’ll get a lot more participation,” he said.

According to a news release sent out by UCPS, only about one out of 13 children eligible for free or reduced lunches will get the food they need during the summer. That’s why the program is so important, Arrowood said.

“It’s important because there is a need out there,” Arrowood said. “We know the need is there, because of what we do during the school year, and it doesn’t just stop there. It (continues throughout) the summer also.”

For Harvey, the program is important because it brings the children of the community and the school system together.

“We want to try to build relationships with kids beyond tests,” Harvey said. “We’re still worried about you the 185 days you’re not in school. We still care about you and want to make sure your needs are being met.”

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