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Schools, clubs provide free meals for childrenPublished June 8, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
The classrooms are empty and silent this summer at Gurdon Primary School in south Clark County, but things are still busy in the school’s cafeteria.
“We had 44 kids in for lunch on the first day and 67 the second and, so far, 33 today,” Millie McCain, food service director for the Gurdon Public Schools, said Wednesday. “We’re still getting the word out about the summer free-lunch program. We want churches or sports teams having summer practices to bring their kids here for some good food.”
McCain is in charge of the summer food-service program being operated by the school district. Opening Monday, Gurdon’s was the first of several such programs to commence in the Tri-Lakes Edition coverage area this summer. Other districts around the region are scheduled to begin serving meals next week, with even more programs operating beginning in the third week of June.
The free meals are directed for the children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year in the National School Lunch Program. That includes most of the students in Gurdon’s schools.
“About 80 percent of the students at our schools receive the free or reduced-price meals,” said Allen Blackwell, superintendent of the Gurdon School District. “That is about 600 of the 750 students we have in our system.”
Blackwell said having enough food is an important factor in student success.
“We tracked some of our students last year and found that about 50 percent of our students had breakfast either here at school or at home,” he said. “That leaves half our students who didn’t have breakfast at all. Those students are going to have attention issues if they don’t eat, and by 9 o’clock, they hit rock bottom.”
In Gurdon, the program is funded through a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture called Seamless Summer.
“I would love to take credit for it, but we got a memo from the Department of Education that we could continue serving lunch during the summer under the program,” Blackwell said. “We started Monday at 11 a.m.”
Blackwell said the cost of the food and the salaries of three kitchen-staff people who work four hours a day are funded by the state-federal program.
“Our only real expenses are the utilities and having the cafeteria open,” the superintendent said. “That’s just an investment in our kids.”
Robin Freeman of the Central Arkansas Development Council said the council is always looking for new places that can offer the lunches to students, once school is over. The CADC is participating in the Summer Food Service Program that is federally funded.
Children from households that are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or have benefits under the Food Distribution Program or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs are eligible to receive the free meals.
“There is plenty of grant money from several sources for lunch programs,” Freeman said. “We are looking for places that can get good food to the children, like churches and schools.”
The CADC has helped create a free lunch program at the Malvern Boys & Girls Club on West Moline Street for several years. The club opened its food service to children on Thursday and will operate Monday through Friday until July 11. The club will be closed on July 4. Hot Spring County residents can contact Michelle Furlow-Hunter at the CADC office in Malvern at (501) 332-5426 for more information.
Also in Malvern, a free breakfast and lunch program will get underway Tuesday at the College of the Ouachitas. The community college will offer the meals for children under 18 on Tuesdays and Fridays until Aug. 15.
Library technician Linda Cunningham is heading up the food program at COTO. She said between breakfast and lunch servings, the children will have access to the basketball and volleyball courts and can help out in the school’s community garden.
“We want those who come in the morning to know they are also welcome to stay or come back for lunch, and we have a young man, Mathew Dugger, who has volunteered to help organize games and activities,” Cunningham said. “We still need donations of sports equipment like basketballs.”
For more information, call the college at (501) 337-5000.
Breakfast and lunch are also being provided at several locations to children 18 and younger by the Bryant Public Schools.
“There is no application or registration needed, and the meals are without charge,” said Devin Sherrill, director of communication for Bryant schools. “Just come hungry.”
The two meals a day will be provided starting Monday and continuing Monday through Friday until July 27 at Paron Elementary School. The meals will also be served at the Bryant Boys & Girls Club, Bryant Elementary School and Davis Elementary School through June 27, then again from July 7 through Aug. 8. The meals will be suspended for the week of June 30 because of the July Fourth holiday.
Sherrill said breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 9 a.m., while lunch begins at 11:a.m. and is served until 1:30 p.m.
The meals need to be eaten in the serving areas, and children should be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call the Bryant School District Food Services offices at (501) 847-5632.
In Gurdon, Brenda Hammonds, manager of the primary-school cafeteria, said the school is cooking up some of the most-requested meals from the school year.
“We have tried some of the favorite lunches the kids had during the year,” she said. “The kids seem to really enjoy them.”
The parents who come with the children are also invited to take part in the meals, Hammond said.
“We were serving taco soup, and we tried to get one of the dads to have some, but he just sat with the kids,” Hammond said, smiling. “Later, I saw him try some; then he asked for a bowl of his own.”
Superintendent Blackwell said the lunches will be served at Gurdon Primary School until Aug 1.
“We will spend a week cleaning the equipment and waxing the floors of the cafeteria,” he said. “The teachers come back Aug. 11, and then school starts and the cafeteria opens on Aug. 18.”
Blackwell said the summer program is for the community.
“We hope it helps the parents during the summer,” he said. “There is no real benefit for us. We are just taking care of our kids.”
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.