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The food bank of central and Eastern North Carolina reports that over 61,000 individuals in the Cape Fear region are at risk of hunger. Out of those 61,000, 18,000 are children—an alarming number of young ones that would surely suffer during the summer. Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that kids gain the most weight during the summer months because of a lack in nutritional foods.

During the school year, kids are given nutritious meals every weekday at the same time. For underprivileged families, this becomes a necessity for the child’s health. So, what happens during the summer to kids whose parents simply can’t afford the cost of healthy food? Do they eat a bag of chips and wait until dinnertime to eat something of substance? To ensure kids don’t have to fend for themselves or struggle for sustenance, the New Hanover County School system is lending a helping hand.

New Hanover County kids’ lunchtime schedules will continue to flow without obstruction into the summer thanks to their Seamless Summer Food Service Program (SSFSP). “[The goal] is to provide a free meal to help children get the nutrition they need to learn, plan, and grow throughout the summer months when they are out of school,” Anne Ohlson, New Hanover County child nutrition supervisor, says.

Starting on June 26th, free lunches provided by the Child Nutrition Department will be served to children 18 years and younger at various public schools and sites throughout New Hanover County. Through August 9th all children are welcome to grab lunch at one of the participating venues (all listed at the end of the story) during appropriate timeslots. Lunches will be served every Monday through Thursday.

Acceptance and participation in the program is the same for all children, and kids will not be discriminated against in regards to sex, race, age or disability. Young children need to be accompanied by an adult. Kids who look to be over the age of 18 will be required to provide a form of identification. Parents are welcome to join their kids for a meal for a mere $3, with meals served on a first-come, first-serve basis.

According to Ohlson, in 1968, the Summer Food Service Program started nationwide as a larger pilot project by the federal government. Since 1975 it has operated as a separate program. In the summer of 2009, over 2.2 million children at over 35,000 sites were fed. In New Hanover County, it has served children for well over 25 years.

Based on last year’s statistics, Ohlson says the county is prepping to serve about 750 lunches per day. “Luckily, we have been able to get the word out early this year,” she says. “Each school in New Hanover County has received flyers listing participating sites and service times, and it is posted on the child nutrition web page. I expect to well exceed the numbers of the past.”

According to the United States Food and Nutrition website, in order for a school or location to be approved to serve food for the program, it must be located within the boundaries of a school area where at least 50 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Schools in the area must also be participants in the National School Lunch and/or School Breakfast Programs, which provide reduced-price or free meals to children during the regular school year. In New Hanover, areas eligible for SSFSP include neighborhoods encompassing Freeman School of Engineering, Greentree Apartments, Village at Greenfield, St. Phillip A.M.E. Church, Snipes Academy of Art and Design, Mary C. Williams Elementary, Wrightsboro Elementary, plus several more.

Hot and cold items will be served, as the program ensures proper equipment onsite. Some locations will use steam tables to maintain the appropriate temperatures, while others will not. “Other sites serve cold meals and can maintain the temperatures with insulated containers,” Ohlson says. “Each meal will consist of at least 3 meal components, plus milk. All meals must be served as a unit, meaning that all meal items must be included on the meal tray,” Ohlson says.

Folks can find out more information on the Seamless Summer Food Service Program by calling the NHCS Child Nutrition Department at 910-254-4260. Anyone interested in volunteering at one of the sites should email Anne Ohlson at Anne.Ohlson@nhcs.net.

Kids can grab a free, healthy lunch Monday through Thursday from June 26th until August 9th at the following locations:

• Freeman School of Engineering, 2601 Princess Place Drive, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
• Creekwood South, 714 Emory Street, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
• Greentree Apartments, 4615 Greentree Road, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Hillcrest, 1402 Mears Street, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
• Martin Luther King Center, 401 S. 8th Street, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Jervay Communities, 1088 Thomas C. Jervay Loop, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Vesta Village, 1902 Manhattan Street, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Rankin Terrace, 410 N. 11th Street, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Houston Moore, 1805 S. 13th Street, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
• Village at Greenfield, 1400 S. 11th Street, 11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
• St. Phillip A.M.E. Church, 815 N. 8th Street, 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Snipes Academy of Arts & Design, 2150 Chestnut Street, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Mary C. Williams Elementary, 801 Silver Lake Road, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Wrightsboro Elementary, 2716 Castle Hayne, Road 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

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