Bibb County school nutrition workers boxed up cereal, fruit and sandwiches chilled over the Memorial Day weekend and are ready to give the food away to hungry Bibb County children starting Tuesday.
The system has cranked up its summer food program, providing breakfast, lunch or a snack starting this week and running through July 23.
It’s one of two programs providing children with free meals in various locations across town.
School officials will offer meals at nearly two dozen sites across the county.
“Any student under the age of 18 can walk up to any site we’re serving and get a meal,” said Cleta Long, the system’s nutrition director. “The only stipulation is they have to eat it on site.”
The meals are free to children regardless of a family’s income.
Lunches include a salad with ham chunks, juice and Graham crackers or roast beef and swiss cheese on wheat bread, with carrots.
Children can get breakfast and lunch each day or lunch and a snack daily.
The school system aims to provide meals for 5,000 children each day this summer.
Bibb County is also running its summer youth feeding program for as many as 1,600 children at 20 or more other sites, including public housing units and city recreation centers.
Bibb County’s program also serves box lunches of sandwiches, fruit and milk. Some of the sites start Tuesday, while others start June 7. All of them run through July 16.
“A lot of families call (each summer),” said Lisa Carrington, Bibb County’s summer feeding program director. “It does help a lot of people to receive a meal for their children.”
Long and Carrington said that with the economy’s condition, the number of children requesting meals could be high this summer.
Among the Bibb system’s 25,000 students, about 77 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.
“These programs are happening all over the U.S.,” Long said. “The need is greater than ever.”
The county used to hire the school system’s central kitchen as its vendor to serve summer lunches until the school system lost the contract in 2008. The school system stopped its summer school program in 2009, so it chose not to have a summer food program that year.
Hunger is one of the chief roadblocks to learning and can lead to health issues for children. Long said those were factors in the school system’s wanting to restart its program, in addition to a county-operated one.
“I’m always concerned when students are out for the summer and don’t have adequate nutrition,” Long said. “We know there are a lot of students out there. All of us working together, we can reach more.”
Any costs for the program are reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Long and Carrington said.
For information about the Bibb County school system’s summer lunch program, call 779-2600. For information about Bibb County’s summer feeding program, call 621-6305.
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.