Children may be out of school for the summer, but they can still get free breakfast and lunch, and this year, organizers are planning more delivery options.
Under the long-standing Summer Food Service Program, local schools, nonprofits and other agencies can prepare healthy breakfasts and lunches for kids and be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Last year, Baton Rouge served about 325,000 such meals, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said at a Wednesday news conference. Many of those meals went to children enrolled in summer camps at parish parks.
This year, BREC and the schools are trying to deliver some of that healthy food to children in low-income neighborhoods who don’t go to camp — and bring a little of that camp experience to those neighborhoods.
The parish has two trucks packed with sports equipment, trampolines and obstacle course challenges. The “BREC on the Geaux” program is meant to offer an experience like summer camp but can circulate among parks in poor neighborhoods and public housing sites, said BREC Assistant Superintendent Dale Auzenne.
This year, most of the kids visited by BREC on the Geaux around lunchtime will get food delivered along with basketball hoops and footballs.
Our Lady of the Lake also plans to continue participating in the program. Last year, it began providing food at pediatrics offices for patients and their siblings and wound up serving several hundred meals, said Dr. Diane Kirby.
“Children have difficulty getting access to healthy food during the summer,” the pediatrician said.
And even young people know when their families are struggling — one child told his doctor that he eats less than he wants to make sure there is enough food to go around for everyone in his family, Kirby said.
But the problem isn’t only about getting enough food but also having access to the right food. Children can gain more weight in the summer than during the school year because when they aren’t getting school lunches they can only get their hands on unhealthy food, Holden said.
Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system began offering free food to all students, regardless of whether they had previously qualified for low-cost or no-cost meals.
Under the summer feeding program, anyone 18 years old or younger may eat for free at one of the participating sites, no paperwork required, no questions asked, said Andy Allen, head of the mayor’s Healthy City initiative.
“There is no catch,” he said.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit Big Buddy program will deliver meals to community centers, vacation Bible schools and camps not affiliated with BREC.
Executive Director Gaylynne Mack said her organization is planning to serve at least 1,000 breakfasts and another 1,000 lunches every day and encouraged groups with summer programming for children to contact Big Buddy if they’d like to participate.
Big Buddy and BREC on the Geaux deliveries will begin May 31 and run through the first week of August until classes resume. BREC’s schedule is available at brec.org.
The USDA intends to serve more than 200 million free meals through the summer feeding program this year.
More than 60 locations are planned throughout the parish. Most are run out of East Baton Rouge Parish schools, though the Baker and Central school systems also are participating, as are a few private campuses.
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