Food for the Summer is gearing up to provide local kids with free lunches until school starts again at the end of August.

More than 3,500 children in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. That’s almost 30 percent of the school system. It’s also the percentage of the school system’s kids who are often left without food when school lets out for the summer.

That’s where Food for the Summer steps in. It’s a nonprofit collaborative that provides kids up to age 18 with lunch during the summer months. Money for the program comes from the United States Department of Agriculture. The food is prepared by CHCCS food workers and is delivered by volunteers at the different food stations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The program held a kickoff at Northside Elementary Wednesday to get information out to the community and recruit volunteers to man its food locations.

Emma Jenkins-Sullivan is the program coordinator for Food for the Summer. She says some activities at the kick-off included fun games and a bounce house but also informational stations to help get the word out about how to get food this summer.

“What’s happening for those kids when the academic school year ends? There’s a whole summer break. So, maybe where is their food going to be coming from? We just want to make sure that we are able to provide kids at least with lunches every weekday and a lot of our sites are open.”

Stations at the kickoff also included booths from partnering organizations such as TABLE, Book Harvest and the mayor’s office.

Food for the Summer is Mayor Pam Hemminger’s initiative. Mayoral aide Jeanne Brown says one of the goals for this year is to incorporate more enrichment and educational programs and resources with the free food at the different locations.

“Book Harvest is here – they’ve got a booth – and they provide free books. So we bring out crates on Free Book Wednesdays, and the kids can take home as many free books as they want and keep them; they’re theirs.”

Other enrichment programs include a collaboration with Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA to provide free swim lessons to local kids.

Jenkins-Sullivan says the organization will start preparing food Monday and needs volunteers to help take the food and serve it at its almost 15 locations.

“You can be a drop-off volunteer and just drop off food, and that is a more quick position. You can also be a site lead or a site volunteer. And pretty much those are the same kind of things – you’re picking up food from a cafeteria; and you’re going to bring it to a site; and you’re going to serve kids their lunch; and you’re going to be playing games with them for that hour.”

Food for the Summer will also begin a Youth Ambassador portion of its program this summer.

You can find out more information and sign up to volunteer here.

Photo via Steph Beckett