A Visit with Cabarrus County's Summer School Lunch Program

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It is difficult to understand why we have so many hungry children in our state - over 600,000, according to No Kid Hungry NC.

As we at the Poverty Center are learning about the problem, it has become clear to us that summer-time is a difficult time for hungry children. There are two reasons: Schools are out, so many children must go without free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches, and food pantries' supplies wane in the season of highest demand but fewest food drives.

No Kid Hungry North Carolina is working with several agencies in the State (the USDA, DPI, DHHS, and others) to tackle the issue. Last week, I made the trip to Cabarrus County to experience first-hand an example of the result of such efforts - a creative and effective way to deliver food to hungry children.

I first met with Kristen Clapper, a Field Supervisor in the Child Nutrition Program at Cabarrus County Schools. She explained the difference between the Seamless Summer Option program - run through DPI, and the more highly-reimbursed Summer Food Service Program (Run through DHHS). The main difference (aside from the higher reimbursement rate), is paperwork. A 4" binder full of delicious paperwork.

The reward is a host of more financially viable options. Cabarrus County uses SFSP to provide 17 "closed" sites with food for children. These "closed" sites are local organizations that control their enrollment at the site itself - church bible camps, tutoring programs, etc. The other three remaining sites are "open." Open enrollment sites require no ID, and no particular school enrollment. You just have to be under 18 and ready for a chicken tender wrap or a ham sandwich.

I boarded the bus at around 10:45. It had been a while since I had been on a school bus (They have air conditioning now!). I didn't really know what to expect. The first site was in a neighborhood made up mostly of trailers that were apparently full of hungry 2-13 year olds. It was like I was on a giant ice cream truck - when the kids heard the bus enter their neighborhood, they chased the bus and shouted to their friends, beckoning the neighborhood with shouts and arm waves. Many of the children wolfed down their sandwiches and were on their way but a few of them stayed to chat on the bus and eat and giggle.

The second site was across town. Ten children were walked down the street by an adult camp counselor. The children happily ate on the bus and talked about kid things: who was faster, bugs, birds, favorite colors, which foods they liked and which foods they didn't. While most of us considered this light-hearted talk simply a part of childhood, to the hungry child these carefree conversations are luxuries. To the young and hungry, free time is spent wondering when and if they were going to eat, or why they deserved to feel so empty.

At the third site, it was the bus that was empty - until Caylin and Ms. Clapper walked around the neighborhood to announce the location of the bus, that is (Ms. Clapper said they had asked their school system's Nutrition Director for an ice-cream-truck-style musical PA system, but as yet the bus sounds like a typical school bus). Seven children were led back to the bus by Ms. Clapper, including 2 boys that were 15 years of age. The younger kids ate quickly and then moved on to doing pull-ups on the luggage racks on the bus. The 15-year-old boys were more subdued, but thanked us politely and exited the bus. In an instant, they were running across the field to, I imagine, their next summer adventure (energized by the food, I like to think).

I drove back to Chapel Hill thinking about being a 15-year-old kid again. Or a 7-year-old. I was lucky enough to get reduced lunch, luckier still to never feel real hunger at any point in the year. I was lucky that my thoughts were not muddled by having to work out where I was going to get my next meal but was left to work out my statistics homework. But I also was feeling more determined to make sure to support No Kid Hungry NC and the development of summer food options across the state.

To learn more about No Kid Hungry NC, check out their website.

Posted by Joseph Arthur Polich on Tue. July 9, 2013 9:24 PM
Categories: Through Our Eyes
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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