The federally funded Summer Food Service Program in Littleton Public Schools ended last month. Courtesy of LPS
BY BILL YOUMANS
Summer break provides a breather for students and families, a time to relax and recharge before it is time to hit the ground running as school resumes in the fall. But for some students, summer break also equates to hunger because being in school meant they received a nutritious meal every day in the lunchroom.
In Littleton Public Schools, the good news is that while school is out for the summer, school lunch remained in session at Field Elementary. Federally funded, the LPS Summer Food Service Program provides free lunches for all children up to 18 during the long summer vacation.
This year’s program, which ended July 28, provided free lunch for any child who walked through the doors, whether they attended LPS or not.
“The Summer Food Service Program is designed so that kids don’t go hungry during the summer months. If you are a kid, you can eat here for free,” said Jessica Gould, director of LPS Nutrition Services. “Within our communities, parents are strapped with a lot of expenses. There are times when they have to choose between paying the utility bill or buying nutritious food for their kiddos. Sometimes it comes down to a parent saying, ‘This is all we’ve got today.’ We take nutrition and hunger seriously here at LPS, and this program helps us feed more students year-round.”
The program is paid for through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. All lunches meet state and federal requirements based on the USDA dietary guidelines, so they include a grain, protein, fruits, vegetables and milk.
According to the USDA website, more than 200 million free meals will be served to children 18 years and under at approved sites in 2017.
While the cooks use a portion of their traditional summer break to run the program, the payoff is the added time being around the kids.
“When those kids come through the lunch line, they become my kids,” said Tami Wasson, who is in her third year as the program’s kitchen manager at Field. “I want them to have a nutritious meal and see a friendly face behind the counter ready to help them. Some of the kids come from the neighborhoods by themselves on their bikes or on foot, and we even have some families here from Englewood, Denver and Jefferson County. I want them to feel safe here, and we will be sure they don’t leave hungry. Some days we serve more than 240 meals, so we must be doing something right.”
Depending on the day’s menu, kids might be served a grilled-cheese sandwich, french toast sticks and sausage, pizza, chicken alfredo or a hamburger. Milk options include fat free, 1 percent, and fat-free chocolate.
As the lunchroom fills with kids, the energy and laughter that brightens the room is contagious.
“I love seeing the kids having fun and enjoying themselves, while eating good food,” Gould said. “I hope that carries over to mealtime at home. Too often, family life is so busy that eating together rarely happens. We try and make a connection between nutrition and education that encourages kids to try new foods and enjoy the social aspect of eating together. But most importantly, we don’t want them to leave here hungry.”
Bill Youmans is a writer/photographer for Littleton Public Schools.
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