Children’s summer meal program kicks off its 25th year in Athens

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Atlanta Falcons player Matt Bosher chats with one of the children at AHA’s Summer Meals Kickoff event

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Over 75 children participated in this year’s Athens Summer Meals Kickoff event which took place in the Athens Housing Authority’s (AHA) Nellie B. Library. The children participated in games like potato sack races and water balloon tosses. They were served a complete, healthy lunch of turkey and cheese on a wheat bun with milk, fruit, and vegetables.

AHA’s summer meal program is celebrating its 25th year under the direction of Dr. Geraldine Clark. Last summer the AHA distributed 44,000 meals to children in Athens. AHA’s summer meal program is run by USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). AHA and SFSP want to ensure every child receives a nutritious meal when school is out of session.

Patrick, a teenager from Athens, has been coming to AHA’s summer meals for three years and loves it. When asked his favorite meal, he cracked a smile and said, “the goldfish sandwich.” He explained the sandwich is shaped like a goldfish and filled with delicious meat and cheese. The goldfish sandwich was a favorite among many of the children.

First Lady Sandra Deal also attended the kickoff event. Deal praised the efforts of the AHA’s summer meal program for filling an important need and allowing community fellowship.

“It’s a good way to get the children together that live here,” said Nikki, a mother of two whose children participate in AHA’s summer meals program.

Children enjoy their time at summer meals. “They eat and get to play with other children in the community. They have a good time,” said Jessica, who brought her three children to the kickoff event.

In addition to being provided a healthy lunch, there are educational opportunities as well.

Nutrition volunteers from Pack to Plate taught a lesson on the tastes and colors of various fruits and vegetables that the children may not have access to. Pack to Plate is food security and food literacy program in Athens. One young boy was surprised by the smell of a yellow pepper. “It smells good. I’m going to go home and eat it,” he said.

The students gave a fruit and vegetable smoothie demonstration along with a test taste. The smoothies were a hit with the children. Many asked for second and even third helpings.

Atlanta Falcons player Matt Bosher spoke to the children about healthy eating for great game performance. “Children are active and need the proper fuel for their bodies like dairy, protein, and whole grain,” said the football star.

Children in the Athens area can come to the Nellie B. Library every day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. for a free summer meal on a first come, first served basis. Meals are ordered a day in advance, so there are limited quantities.

1 out 7 children receive free summer meals

“Hunger has no vacation,” said Lana Kirk, a USDA representative. “Summer is a struggle for many children and parents.”

There are over 700,000 children in Georgia who do not have reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. This problem is known as food insecurity. Approximately 63 percent of those children receive free or reduced lunch during the school year. When the school year ends, many of those children do not continue to receive regular meals. Only 16 percent of the children who receive free and reduced lunch participate in summer meal programs.

Summer meal programs in Georgia

Last year 8.5 million summer meals were distributed in Georgia. Food services like Bright from the Start are essential to the success of SFSP. Faith-based and nonprofit food services make up 95 percent of the summer meal programs in the state.

Some school districts offer Seamless Summer, a summer meal program, to students. Any student, under age 18, in Athens-Clarke County can go to Fowler Drive Elementary, Gaines Elementary, or Oglethorpe Elementary schools Monday through Friday to receive a free lunch. Seamless Summer will run until July 19, 2015 in those locations.

Find free summer meals in your area

Summer meal programs are free to children under age 18. There are three ways to find free summer meals in your area:

1) Text “Food GA” to 877877

2) Call the SFSP line at 855-550-SFSP

3) Dial 211

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