BANGOR, Maine — The Good Shepherd Food Bank piloted the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program last summer and it was so successful that the number of places offering free lunches to children this summer has grown to five and spread across the river to Brewer.
“It’s an extension of the National School Lunch Program,” Clara McConnell Whitney, spokeswoman for the Good Shepherd Food Bank, headquartered in Brewer, said Friday. “The kids in all three locations last year were using the sites and it was so successful we expanded.”
The summerlong program that offers a daily free lunch to children ages 18 and under started Monday and runs through Aug. 29. The menu changes daily from turkey sandwiches, carrots, fresh fruit and low-fat chocolate milk to other selections such as cheese pizza, turkey wraps, yogurt and granola and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Last year, about 230 children on average were fed lunch every day, the Good Shepherd website states. More than 80,000 children in Maine are enrolled in the National School Lunch Program and only a small number, about 16 percent, have access to summertime meal programs, Whitney said. A child does not have to be enrolled in the NSLP to have a free lunch in the summer program. Any child can take part.
The free meals are being served in Bangor at the Bangor Housing Authority’s community center, 161 Davis Road; Griffin Park playground, 194 Griffin Road; Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St.; and Bangor Y, 17 Second St. and at the Brewer Housing Authority on Rinfret Drive.
The local program, also supported by the ConAgra Foods Foundation’s Hunger Free Summer Initiative and other partners, ensures children who depend on the federal free and reduced school lunch program have access to nutritious meals when not in school, Whitney said.
“Not only were we addressing the issue of hunger, but also providing a safe place for kids to enjoy fun activities, such as gardening, reading, and fitness,” Catherine Hamel, director of community outreach at Bangor Housing Authority, said earlier this month in a news release. “This year, we look forward to including new weekly themes such as around the world, carnival, and space.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program was first created in 1968 as part of another initiative and it became a separate program in 1975, the agency’s website states. More than 2.28 million children participated at almost 39,000 sites in the summer of 2012, it says.
The summer meals are reimbursed through the federal program at a rate of $3.47 per lunch and 82 cents per snack.
The local partnership also provides children with bags of nutritious foods on Fridays at the Davis Road meal site thanks to ConAgra’s contributions, Whitney said.
Folks from Good Shepherd Food Bank, the USDA, Bangor Housing Authority and the Maine Department of Education were on hand during a kickoff event held Friday, she said.