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Schools out for summer, but cafeterias still open

by Morgan Smith

Kids in south Charlotte will have more chances to experience their favorite cheese dippers and chicken nuggets this summer. And, with the help of a new texting feature, summer lunch locations will be a lot easier to find.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, No Child Hungry North Carolina and various other organizations are working together to encourage more at-risk children who are on free and reduced lunch during the school year to come out to schools and other various sites across the community this summer to keep their bellies full.

“No Kid Hungry set up the texting capability because we heard frequently from people (trying) to find the meals and even who to ask,” Tamara Baker, No Kid Hungry NC representative, said.

With more than 74,000 students on free or reduced lunch this last year in CMS, providing breakfast and lunch for students during the summer isn’t a new idea. They’ve been feeding students during the summer for decades. But with only 13 percent of students in North Carolina taking advantage of summer food programs, No Child Hungry North Carolina and its partners such as the North Carolina Department for Health and Human Services and Department of Public Instruction are taking steps across the state to spread awareness of the summer program and encourage more families to take part in its benefits.

CMS is one of 12 school districts participating in the pilot program, which launched last September with the help of Gov. Bev Perdue. The program includes a new texting feature where area families can text their zip code to find the nearest breakfast or lunch site.

“This is the first year we have been involved with summer meals,” Baker said. “There were always summer programs. … We’re trying to create more outreach programs.“
CMS has conducted summer food programs for years and has had one of the greatest impacts on hunger in the state, Baker said.

Last summer alone, CMS served more than 270,000 lunches. With the addition of the texting feature and added outreach, Amy Harkey, assistant director of the CMS child nutrition program, said the school system expects to nearly double that number.

“Our goal this year is to serve almost a half a million meals. We’re seeing growth in all the campsites’ registration and the more kids we can feed, the more we see better learning when they come back to school,” Harkey said.

Harkey added that the school system saw an increase in need over the past school year. In return, the district expects to expand the number of food sites from 152 last year to near 180 this year because of the greater need.

“I feel as if we have seen an increase in need throughout the school year,” Harkey said.  “We hope children are playing outdoors and kids need the extra calories. It’s a service to the community.”

Sheryl Sweeney, the cafeteria manager at South Charlotte Middle and manager for the summer feeding program at McClintock Middle School, has worked with the summer food program for several years. She said over the past year she saw an increase in students on free and reduced lunch, making the summer program all the more important.

“Some of these children don’t get a meal at home – maybe the resources aren’t there or the finances. I don’t know, but I feel like that’s why we need to be here,” she said.
Sweeney added that although the program has been around for years with plenty of food available, participation isn’t always high.

“I don’t think the word gets out to the neighborhoods enough,” she said. “We’ve got the posters and the fliers were sent home. Hopefully this will bring more students in because it would be great if we could feed a lot more.”

And Harkey is hopeful the new texting feature will open the doors to more students.

“I think texting will be nice because once the word gets out, most kids can text, most parents can text,” Harkey said.

To find summer feeding locations near you, text FoodNC to 877877. After receiving the prompt, enter your zip code. People can find locations online at Standard text messaging rates apply. Meals are free to children and teens, age 18 and younger. No registration or income requirements. Site hours may vary and are available online.

South Charlotte school locations

East Mecklenburg High
6800 Monroe Road
Open Monday through Thursday to Aug. 15

Greenway Park Elementary
8301 Monroe Road
Open Monday through Friday to Aug. 10

McClintock Middle
2101 Rama Road
Open Monday through Friday to Aug. 3

Montclaire Elementary
5801 Farmbrook Drive
Open Monday through Friday to July 27

Quail Hollow Middle
2901 Smithfield Church Road
Open Monday through Friday to July 27

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