Summer meal sites get kids the food they need… and want.
“Milk!” Leonard Community Recreation Center Director Linda Marsh calls a gentle reminder across the hall; she is keeping a watchful eye on the lunchline. A little girl steps back to the serving table and picks up a milk carton, balancing it on her lunch tray precariously as she walks to join her friends.
There are about 50 children gathered here today at one of Second Harvest Food Bank’s summer meal sites; they are sitting in chairs around long tables chatting between bites.
Today’s lunch is macaroni and cheese: “I like this type!” says a small boy enthusiastically, with his mouth full. “It’s lumpy!”
While “lumpy” may not always be a positive review, here the “lumpy” macaroni is a hit. It is, afterall, the “real” type; thick noodles with oozy, gooey real cheeses baked on. It is steaming hot and being served with peaches and green beans. We let the kids know it is National Macaroni and Cheese Day (July 14th!) and they are dutifully impressed by our knowledge.
We are equally impressed by theirs. We have come to the summer camp at Leonard Recreation to ask kids about their favorite foods. While pizza is the predictable winner, strawberries, almond butter, applesauce, and even brussel sprouts get honorable mentions. One young girl tells us that she loves collard greens, especially the way her grandmother makes them. “I live with my grandma in the summer while my mom works,” she explains. “She said she will teach me how to cook.”
The girl next to her says that she wants to learn how to make flan. “It is definitely my favorite food, but I eat salad, too,” she assures us.
Kids love food– and it’s a good thing, because kids need food– healthy, nutritious food to fuel their bodies and minds as they grow. Children who are food insecure have increased health concerns: According to Feeding America, food insecure children are more likely to require hospitalization and may be at higher risk for chronic health conditions such as anemia. Food insecurity is also linked to behavioral problems: Food-insecure children may be at a greater risk of truancy and school tardiness and when they are in school, children who are food insecure may experience increases in an array of behavior problems including fighting, hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, mood swings, and bullying.
1 in 4 children in Northwest North Carolina are facing food insecurity. This is why Second Harvest Food Bank has teamed up with recreation centers, churches, YMCA’s, and other places this summer to make sure kids are fed. Leonard Recreation Center is one of 10 Greensboro Parks and Recreation locations we are working with in Guilford County to get healthy breakfasts and lunches to children who otherwise might go without. The center’s offer a full day enrichment summer camp; Second Harvest offers the food. The kids here are ages 5 through 12, and roughly half of the families here qualify for generous scholarships from Greensboro Parks and Recreation and likewise for food assistance.
“The kids like the hot meals the best,” observes Linda Marsh. “And they need it! We have full days here, complete with swimming, walks, and field trips.” She interrupts herself again: “Milk!” she calls out to another child. “We ask them all to at least try their milk,” she says. “They are growing.”