When it’s their turn, the girls take a white box from the table and sit down, opening its lid to find a turkey sandwich, a carton of milk, a bag of broccoli and a fruit cup.
Dozens of other children around the two girls do the same, just like they do every day of camp.
But it wasn’t the children’s families who paid for the meals. It wasn’t even the Boys and Girls Club. Instead, it was the Summer Feeding Program, an initiative that provides lunch to about 4,000 children in York and Chester counties every day at no cost to them or their families, according to the program’s director, David Moore.
“I think it’s important because there really is a need,” Moore said. “People have been stretched thin the last couple of years.”
Around 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, trucks full of boxed lunches stop at 19 distribution sites throughout the area. Vehicles driven by workers with the program then get loaded up with a pre-determined number of lunches based on the demand in the area. Those vehicles are driven to 109 feeding sites across the two counties where any child under 18 can pick one up.
“It’s really important to have the community’s participation in the program because they know where the sites are needed better than we do,” Moore said.
One of those sites is Confederate Park in Rock Hill. On Wednesday, Janice Gilmore and Pam Minor watched as groups walked toward the picnic pavilion from across the park and around the community to receive their lunches.
“It’s a great program,” said Gilmore, who’s been helping each summer since 2001.
Minor just started working with the program this year, after a member at her church told her about it.
“It’s been really fun out here, doing this with the kids,” she said.
At the Northside Recreation Center, the Boys and Girls Club summer camp director, Larissa Summers, said her campers enjoy the lunch.
“The program supplies a healthy meal for the kids here,” Summers said, adding that many of her campers would qualify for free or reduced lunch in their schools.
Summers said providing the boxed lunches keeps camp affordable for many families.
Within minutes of sitting down, Zoe and Kameron had eaten most of the contents of their box, leaving only the broccoli. The rest of the girls at their table agreed that if they could choose, their lunch would consist of chicken wings, strawberries or grapes, and chocolate milk or fruit juice.
Moore said they’ve made an effort to update the menu from years past. He said while sandwiches are still common, they try to mix it up, too, with items such as chicken salad and a pita.
The Summer Feeding Program is funded by the Department of Social Services on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. York County sponsors the program. This year, the meals are packaged at Clinton Junior College by Perkins Management Services before heading out to the distribution sites.
And while supplying children with nutritious and affordable food is the main goal of the program, Moore said there’s an added benefit to distributing the lunches.
“It’s also just a good community activity,” he said. “It’s great to see the kids interacting with each other.”
By Rachel Southmayd —email@example.com