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Posted: June 21, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Program offers children meals during summer

Program open to any child under 18

Brittany Thomas/

A square meal is hard to come by for many poor families, especially in the current economy. Free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches help cover the gap in children’s diets, but during the summer those resources aren’t available and children go hungry.

That’s where the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program fits in, by providing those same types of breakfasts and lunches that kids get during the school year — for free.

Jacquelyn McKenzie is the Administrator and Food Service Manager for the SFSP in Henry, Newton and Rockdale counties. She, along with other members of Good Hope Baptist Church, the local sponsor for the SFSP program, including her Assistant Food Service Manager Mary Boston and Rev. Eddie J. Tomlinson are supervising the program and have recruited 17 food distribution sites in the three counties. This is the second year for the program in Newton County.

McKenzie said the SFSP program is a partnership between the USDA and Georgia’s Bright from the Start program. The sites spend the money and are reimbursed by Bright from the Start, based on the number of meals they sell.

McKenzie said most children are able to participate even if they don’t normally qualify for free and reduced lunches. Children simply have to live in a school district where more than 50 percent of the children get free or reduced lunches. The program is for children 18 and younger, and for handicapped children aged 19 and younger.

The program started on June 1 and will run until July 24. She said so far the sites are handing out 700 meals per day, but she hopes that number will soon grow to 1,000 meals a day.

"This is a great program and I just wish more people would take advantage of it," McKenzie said. "It’s not just for the poor, anyone can eat."

McKenzie emphasized that the food from the SFSP is only for children and not for adults, but children should always be accompanied by adults when they are getting food.

Many of the 17 sites also have a variety of enrichment programs, which include cultural field trips, games and other activities and even math and reading lessons. McKenzie said a handful of churches offer daylong Vacation Bible Schools.

"So many children are bored and get into trouble over the summer; there’s more criminal activity," McKenzie said. "It’s important to keep them entertained with ongoing activities."

Natalie Hannans is the summer camp director at Hebron World Church’s site and said her children do everything from playing games to studying, with the goal of getting kids to become more focused on helping out in their community.

She said her camp counselors are paid for through the Workforce Investment Act, which is sponsored by stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The WIA provides money for youth-related jobs.

The 17 sites have slightly different starting times for meals, ranging between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. for breakfast and between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. for lunch. The activity programs and camps have varying schedules and focuses and some of the camps charge a fee. McKenzie said she advises interested parents to call their local sites to see which program provides the best fit.

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