Just one child going hungry is too many, but the number of Wilkes County kids who don’t get enough to eat when schools are out in the summer is staggering.

The Wilkes County Schools Child Nutrition Department is trying to increase the sites providing free nutritious meals and snacks to all youths through its Summer Food Service Program to help address this intolerable situation.

Several thousand children in Wilkes don’t get enough to eat in the summer months.

About 33 percent of the roughly  9,800 students in the Wilkes schools qualify for free and reduced price meals, but the 2018 summer meal program only reached about 7 percent of these qualifying students.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest N.C. estimates that one in four children in Wilkes goes hungry on a daily basis in the summer and more than 23 percent of children in Wilkes live in food insecure homes, which means the household regularly lacks adequate food for consumption.

Adding more summer meal sites means signing up more meal site sponsors – either individuals or groups. These can be community, school, church or other organizations. Summer programs like recreation leagues and sports camps may also sponsor meal sites.

Under a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the school system’s child nutrition department supplies meals and snacks for all children ages 1 to 18 free of charge in the summer - regardless of whether they qualify for free and reduced meals in the school year.

A summer meal  site can operate one week, one month or throughout the entire period of service, which begins on May 31 for all sites at Wilkes schools and on June 3 at non-school sites. The program concludes Aug. 2.

Meal service is available Monday through Friday, and each site may choose to operate two days per week, three days per week or each day. Students may be engaged in organized activities, such as sports, swimming or crafts, or may simply convene at the site for food service.

The need for summer meal sites in certain rural communities of Wilkes is especially great, which is partly related to transportation issues.

To sponsor a site, a coordinator for the site must attend one training session, be present at the site for each meal served, maintain a safe area for food service, order meals daily, serve meals to qualifying children/students, maintain required documentation, ensure the site provides equally for all children and follow all USDA and DPI regulations and protocols.

Any group or individual interested in sponsoring a feeding site must complete an application, register and attend one of the required training sessions and present a completed application no later than May 9.

Parents or grandparents who want their children to take advantage of the Summer Food Service Program will need to locate a sponsored site, contact the site coordinator, make a meal reservation and transport their children to the feeding site.

All feeding sites will be posted on the Wilkes County Schools Child Nutrition website prior to the start of the program.

There were 34 meal sites this past summer, including schools, the Wilkes County Library, Wilkes YMCA summer camps and one church. Sites were open an average of 15 days, with an average of 474 children attending each day. The Wilkes Library’s “Imagination Cafe” summer program served meals and provided literary activities.

For more information about sponsoring a Summer Food Service Program site in Wilkes, register for a training session or register a child to participate, contact Debbie Hall at 336-651-4007 or send an email to halld@wilkes.k12.nc.us.

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