Danterry Brown and Derrick Watson made a pit stop Wednesday on their daily trip to the Alvar Branch Public Library, where they like to read “big, chapter books” like the ones in the “Harry Potter” series.
At a table just outside the library doors, the 10-year-olds picked up snacks and cold drinks to beat their midday munchies and the heat.
For the sixth year, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is providing meals to area children as part of the Summer Food Service Program.
The program is open to children who qualify for reduced-price meals from the National School Lunch Program and those who come from households that receive food stamps or other benefits.
Second Harvest is delivering breakfast, lunch and a snack to children at 37 schools, churches and community centers that host summer camps in Orleans Parish. The program also has 16 sites in Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Evangeline, Iberville, Iberia, Vermilion and Lafourche parishes.
The program provided about 200,000 meals last summer.
In an effort to reach more children, the nonprofit food bank has added two “open sites,” locations without a summer program, to its rotation this summer. Those meals are being handed out to children at the Alvar Library in Bywater and the Algiers Regional Library in Algiers, two neighborhoods where Second Harvest found there were “pockets of need,” spokeswoman Terri Kaupp said.
“We know that there’s a need outside of camp. There are kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to camp,” Kaupp said. “This helps us reach those kids as well.”
In Louisiana, nearly a quarter of the state’s 1.1 million children younger than 18 are at risk of hunger, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks. Children who are at risk of hunger have limited or uncertain access to adequate food because of the economic and social conditions of their households.
“During the summer, we see the need go up at the food bank because families are having to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Kaupp said. “During the school year, some meals are generally taken care of because of the free and reduced lunch program.”
Only a few children turned out Wednesday to pick up a lunch of pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and carrots and peas at the Alvar location, where the program is offering lunch to children Monday through Thursday until Aug. 6.
Among them was Shaun Vincent, a rising fifth-grader at Arise Academy who is interning at the Alvar Library this summer and learned about the program from his co-workers. It saved Shaun, 10, from having to walk home to make a sandwich for lunch, though he eyed the meal’s applesauce with some trepidation.