The city of Denham Springs is offering free meals and recreational activities this summer in hopes of preventing hunger and keeping children engaged throughout the summer vacation.

Volunteers already are providing free breakfast and lunch to youths up to age 18, along with recreational activities at the Summer Youth Program, held daily at the L.M. Lockhart Community Center on Rodeo Drive.

“That might be their only meal for the day,” said Donna Jennings, Denham Springs’ grant writer and Main Street director.

“We’re not only feeding them, but we’re giving them a focus and getting them off the streets,” Jennings said.

The program was the brainchild of Arthur Perkins, a longtime Denham Springs councilman, who wanted to create a program that would entertain children while also providing them with meals.

Perkins, a former educator, said he began to receive calls from parents about where their children would go once the school year ended.

Now that the program is in place, Perkins said parents can relax knowing their children will receive two balanced meals each day and have the opportunity to play basketball, baseball, volleyball and table tennis.

The program, modeled after a similar youth program run for years by Daniel and Carolyn Landry in Denham Springs, is part of the Summer Food Service Program — a program of the Louisiana Department of Education — that provides nutritious meals to children during school vacations.

The SFSP reimburses sponsors for meals served to children 18 and younger at approved feeding sites, such as schools and community centers in low-income areas, Jennings said.

Despite the success of last year’s program, Perkins still needs volunteers to help with youth-friendly activities. He’s currently searching for someone who can help teach martial arts to the youths, arts and crafts, or sports.

“I hope they will be well-fed, well-exercised and tired and hopefully stay off the streets when they get home,” Perkins said.

Volunteers will serve breakfast starting at 8 a.m. and lunch at noon.

Recreational activities also will be provided. No preregistration is required, and parents can call (225) 445-1469 for information. Those interested in volunteering also can call (225) 445-1469.