DOVER — The cafeteria at Campus Community School in Dover was noisy in the late morning Monday while kids enjoyed their lunch, including cinnamon muffins, yogurt and applesauce.
“It was really nutritional and really good,” said Tynaihja Watson, 10, after lunch.
The school is one of the places serving free meals to children in need through the Summer Food Service Program this year.
The Food Bank of Delaware, with help from thousands of volunteers, started Monday preparing and distributing free meals to sites throughout the state.
For children used to eating lunch at school, the Summer Food Service Program helps bridge the gap after the school year ends.
“This is a huge need,” said coordinator Sade Truiett.
“We’re in an urban setting in these schools. Our families come from diverse backgrounds.”
Sites participating in the program include faith-based organizations, summer camps, sports camps and other centers where children congregate in the summer. Neighborhoods and apartment complexes are also qualified to serve the free meals.
If a site is in a needy area, they are open and available to all the children in the community.
Through the Summer Food Service Program, any students attending summer school or camp at Campus Community School can eat breakfast and lunch free there.
According to Ms. Truiett, 54 percent of students at Campus Community qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch.
“This program allows them to access healthy, nutritious food throughout the duration of the day,” Ms. Truiett said.
Even if teachers can’t control what students eat at home, the Summer Food Service Program ensures that they eat well at school, she said.
“They give you enough so that you’ll be full for the rest of the day,” Tynaihja said.
She said she always eats her vegetables “because it makes me grow stronger.”
About 75 kids participate in the program, Ms. Truiett said. Only a handful of children brought their own lunches.
“When school is no longer is session, many Delaware school-aged children lose their major food source for the day,” said Food Bank of Delaware President Patricia Beebe in a press release.
“With the help of the community and our team, we can ensure that at-risk children receive proper nutrition during the summer months.”
Through the program, children also try new foods they may not eat at home. Last year, Ms. Truiett said, their meal included hummus, and many kids didn’t know what it was.
A nutritionist also comes in to teach kids about healthy eating, Ms. Truiett said.
The program is also paid for by the USDA and administered by the state Department of Education. Through the program, kids are offered daily access to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
To host a neighborhood program, an adult must contact the food bank for an application to determine eligibility, attend a training session and submit weekly paperwork.
According to the latest KIDS Count Fact Book, 22.1 percent of Delaware children live in poverty. Despite this percentage, only 21 percent of children who participate in nutrition programs during the school year participate in the free summer program.
Last year, the state of Delaware distributed more than 780,000 meals to children.