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What happens to free school lunches during summer break?

By Aaron Mendelson for WHYY/NewsWorks on Aug 22, 2014 01:53 PM
Photo: Aaron Mendelson/WHYY

Kids in Oakland, California eat a free school lunch despite school being out for summer.

With school just a few weeks away, some kids are soaking up the final, carefree days of summer. Yet for many children, summer can mean going hungry.

Thousands of schools, community centers and libraries serve free meals to kids during the summer months. But nationwide, these meals only reach about one in six children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. It's an issue across the country, including in Oakland, Calif., across the bay from wealthy San Francisco.

This summer, Oakland's biggest public library is one of those free meal sites. It sits just off Lake Merritt, in the center of the city. On the library's second floor, kids play loud video games, and even the librarians blast hip-hop and R&B. No one has to whisper here.

A few minutes after noon, librarian Brian Boies begins asking teens a question: "Would you like a lunch?"

Boies makes the rounds and gets a count. Next, he wheels out an old cart, the kind librarians use to reshelve books and movies. But this one carts around shrink-wrapped lunches for the teens.

"I can see in some of the teens' eyes that this is really a big service to them and that it means a lot to their health," Boies says.

On this summer afternoon, the library serves 42 lunches to kids under 18. About 20 of those kids eat in the Teen Zone on the second floor. The rest are served in the basement, in a makeshift cafeteria staffed by volunteers from the county food bank. That's where parents bring their younger kids.

Janice Pang, 11, is getting ready for sixth grade in the fall, and today she's here to enjoy the meal of a ham sandwich, celery, an apple and milk.

"It tastes really good," she says. Pang and her sister, 4, come here a few times a week.

They're here today with Wai Pang, their dad. He says summer meals are a big help for his family. To "prepare the lunch at home we need to spend a lot of time," he says. "But if we come here, they just eat. It save[s] time and money." Families here say that the meals help them stretch their food stamps a little further.

California isn't the only state where parents struggle to feed their kids during the summer. A robocall went out to families in the School District of Philadelphia earlier this year. An excited Philadelphia Eagles longsnapper Jon Dorenbos asks, "Did you know that when school's out kids can get free, nutritious meals all summer long?" The call points families to more information about summer meal sites.

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Comments (1)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:36 pm
Ok, nobody is against feeding them. But while they are at the "library", not the "liberry", turn off the sounds, kill the vidiot games and have them read something. Otherwise, your shrink wrapped lunch will only sustain them to continue to live in misery.

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