Free meals saves family budget

AMY PARKER’S CHILDREN help her volunteer at the summertime free lunch program at the Sand Hill site in Naples. (From left) Christopher, 9, Cody, 5, Avrey, 4, and Caleb, 7, get playful with foam puzzle pieces that are part of the activity box at this free meal location. (De Busk Photo)   INFO BOX: What: Free lunch program for children age 18 and younger When: Monday through Friday until mid-August Where: Casco Community Center, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Naples Town Beach, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sand Road in Naples, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. To find a free lunch site in your community, call Maine Hunger Initiative, 775-0026, or go to www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program

AMY PARKER’S CHILDREN help her volunteer at the summertime free lunch program at the Sand Hill site in Naples. (From left) Christopher, 9, Cody, 5, Avrey, 4, and Caleb, 7, get playful with foam puzzle pieces that are part of the activity box at this free meal location. (De Busk Photo)

What: Free lunch program for children age 18 and younger
When: Monday through Friday until mid-August
Where: Casco Community Center, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Naples Town Beach, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sand Road in Naples, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
To find a free lunch site in your community, call Maine Hunger Initiative, 775-0026, or go to www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — It is a comfort to parents to know their children are getting a healthy meal.

Meanwhile, once children have eaten their fill, they are off and running — literally.

With four children in her household, Amy Parker understands how financially taxing it can be to ensure they get at least three healthy meals a day. That concern is compounded when school is not in session because her children rely on free breakfasts and lunches during the school year.

Parker and her offspring have been coming to the free meal site at Sand Road in Naples for four years; and, they’ve been volunteering there for three years.

“We had time. I don’t mind doing this. It gives back to the community. It teaches values to my kids,” she said.

For Parker, the federally-funded free lunch program that happens each summer is a blessing.

For her children, it’s a chance to get out of the house.

“I like coming here. My house is boring,” nine-year-old Christopher Parker said.

“I like to help pack the food into the cooler” from the refrigerator at the Naples United Methodist Church, which operates a food pantry in the basement.

“Sometimes, I sneak and play the piano and my mom yells at me seven times,” he said.

Once at the designated site, “I like to hand out food and set out blankets. My mom hands out the grapes,” Chris said.

His favorite meal is the chicken nuggets, which are available every Friday.

His younger brother, Caleb, 7, also enjoys the volunteering experience as much as the meals.

“I like that we get to help out. It is fun to pack up the food. I like finding bugs at this place,” he said, demonstrating that the cricket he had captured was missing part of its wing.

Amy Parker said that compared to her cooking at home, her children seem more enthusiastic about eating the packed lunches that arrive each weekday morning from the cafeteria at Saint Joseph College.

“This is fun for them. It’s like a picnic,” she said.

The Sand Hill site has lower numbers than the more visible Naples Town Beach. Also, when it is raining, the program at the beach moves inside to the Town Gymnasium. The beach site will run through Aug. 15, while the Sand Road location will keep serving free lunches until Aug. 22.

The neighboring town has only one site: The Casco Community Center.

In Casco, the free lunch program fills little bellies and a desire to socialize while school is out, according to Casco Recreation Director Beth Latsey.

“We serve between 35 and 40 kids a day,” she said, adding the lunches are provided from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It is a big social hour from 10:30 a.m. through the afternoon,” she said.

“The children are in the gym playing basketball or dodge ball. The adults sit in the bleachers and visit,” she said.

“We sent out a letter to people and got books donated so we could have literacy be part of the lunch,” she said.

The children are encouraged to browse through the books, and take home anything that piques their interest, she said.

“It’s to keep them reading during the summer, and that is going well,” Latsey said.

According to CrossWalk Community Outreach Director Joanna Moore, there are certain guidelines or rules for the program.

Those don’t include filling out forms or providing proof of family income.

“There are no questions asked,” Moore said.

“They have to eat the lunch on-site. The volunteers are accountable to see that the children are getting the food they need. They get a skim milk every day. It is nutritionally balanced,” she said.

“It is different every day, but, the menu is the same every week,” she said.

A crew from Saint Joseph’s College cafeteria prepares the bagged lunches Monday through Friday. The college cafeteria has participated in the program for several years.

“During the summer — that is the time the kids are the hungriest,” Moore said.

 

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