At Northside Elementary School, the students are done working but not the cafeteria staff. They are still preparing dozens of lunches; filling the bags with food and getting ready to pass them out.
The meals are part of Food for the Summer, a program aiming to feed school age children, especially those on free-and-reduced price lunch.
Katie Hug is the program coordinator. She is leading a group of volunteers that will pass out food at 14 sites across Chapel Hill and Carrboro all summer.
While working with United Way, Hug learned that there was money earmarked for summer food programs from the federal government that was going unused.
“It really does take someone like myself, like a program coordinator to recruit all of these volunteers, oversee of these sites, you know, market to the children to let them know,” said Hug.
Funding for the program comes from the USDA. Staff from the school district prepare the lunches. The Inter-Faith Council pays Hug. It’s truly a community effort.
About 3,400 kids are on free-and-reduced lunch in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District. In summers past, only about 900 of those kids would get fed from a program based out of Varsity Church. Food for the Summer’s goal is to reach 1,500 kids each day.
Many summer food programs operate at schools. Food for the Summer tries to bring food right to where it is needed.
“When we starting selecting sites, we said, ‘Well, we’re going to do something different, we’re going to bring it right to the low income apartment complexes,’” said Hug.
Volunteers are really coming out to help too. Before heading out to deliver food on a Friday afternoon, volunteers loaded up their vehicles with bag lunches, milk and bananas.
Hug said most of the volunteer spots have been filled but they are considering expanding to more sites.
“We can’t have enough volunteers,” said Hug.
Over at Hargraves Community Center, kids ride around on their bikes and play on the swing set, while others finish their lunch of chicken nuggets and sweet corn. Volunteers, like Jennifer Spring, passed out about 15 lunches there on Friday. Spring said that helping out had a bigger effect on her than she expected.
“I see the need and it’s touched me,” said
Summertime can often put parents in a difficult situation, to provide an extra meal for their kids than during the school year. Food for the Summer hopes to fill that gap for more and more families around Chapel Hill.