Library hosts Food for Good program

Published June 2, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Ariana Gonzalez, 8, receives a Food for Good meal at the Esther DeWitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville. From now until the first day of school, the library will provide free lunches at noon each weekday to youth ages 3 to 18.

JACKSONVILLE — The Esther DeWitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville is hosting the annual Food for Good summer meal program, which provides free meals to children in the community.

“We’re embedded in the community. Each branch is put in a location for a reason. Here in our location, we try to reach out and help these kids, talk to the kids,” said Terry Nunnery, the library’s youth programmer.

Through a partnership with the Arkansas Dream Center in Little Rock, the Nixon Library, which is a part of the Central Arkansas Library System, provides bagged lunches to youth ages 3 to 18, beginning at noon each weekday. The Dream Center is a nonprofit that aims to combat state crime, poverty, homelessness and more, and it partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PepsiCo Inc. and the state Department of Human Services for the Food for Good program, which provides a safe place for children to have a meal. The library will host the program until the first day of school.

During the school year, the Nixon Library provides a snack to children at 3:45 p.m., and a supper and activity at 4:15 p.m. Nunnery said many children who have a meal at the library during the school year are familiar with its summer meal program, too.

“A lot of them already know where to go,” she said, “but there are a lot of new kids.”

Lunches are prepared by the Dream Center and delivered to the library. Library staff members distribute the lunches, which are always a balanced meal, Nunnery said.

“You’ve got a fruit and grain and a dairy and a vegetable,” she said. “[The protein] is always turkey or chicken and peanut butter.”

The library also has a system that makes sure children share and that food doesn’t go to waste. If someone has a food allergy, for example, he or she can put a food item into the “share box,” and another child can pick that item up for his or her lunch.

“That’s what we do at the library; we share our books,” Nunnery said.

Library staff members are trained to examine each bag to make sure it has all the items it needs before it’s given to a child.

“We have to be trained to use a tally sheet to pass out each item,” she said. “We know to look for the elements that are supposed to be in the bag.”

Nunnery said 20 to 30 lunches are typically handed out each day once the program starts, but toward the end of the summer, up to 50 or 60 lunches are distributed.

“That’s not enough,” she said. “There are a lot of hungry kids out there.”

Nunnery, whose role at the library is to provide educational and fun programs for children, said the library held the Food for Good program outside in the past, but the summer heat has become an issue.

“The last couple of years, we’ve done it outside at the pavilion,” she said. “We’re going to be having it in the meeting room.”

The library doesn’t provide transportation for the children. Some parents, caregivers and day cares take the kids to the library, and sometimes, a group of neighborhood children walk over together, Nunnery said.

“We’ve had lots of positive feedback,” she said. “It’s been a great experience, and I’m really glad that we decided to do this and participate. We’re embedded in this community. It’s part of our responsibility to grow happy and healthy citizens.”

The Dream Center makes providing a nutritious meal easier for members of nearby communities, Nunnery said.

“It’s hard on families right now to provide balanced meals,” Nunnery said. “They’re stepping forward, and they’re helping the community that they’re in. We really all do need to help each other.”

Once school starts, the summer meal program will end, but the library will go back to hosting an after-school snack and suppertime. Nunnery said she wishes even more children would take advantage of the summer program.

“I think we could serve more,” she said. “We really, really could.”

Staff writer Syd Hayman can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or shayman@arkansasonline.com.