Westminster's summer lunch program feeds growing number of kids

Collaborative government effort brings lunch to parks and recreation centers

Posted 6/12/17

Westminster officials hope to provide 15,000 more summertime lunches in 2017 than they did last year, part of a statewide effort to cut back on food insecurity that kicked off June 7.

Westminster Public School officials joined representatives …

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Westminster's summer lunch program feeds growing number of kids

Collaborative government effort brings lunch to parks and recreation centers

Posted

Westminster officials hope to provide 15,000 more summertime lunches in 2017 than they did last year, part of a statewide effort to cut back on food insecurity that kicked off June 7.

Westminster Public School officials joined representatives from the city, the state Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to kick off the Summer Food Service program, locally and across Colorado.

"We believe that education is about the whole body, and that begins with having your machine properly fueled," said Dino Valente, president of the Westminster Public Schools board. "We're very proud of what we do to ensure our students have food, not only when they are in school but throughout the school year."

Nationally, the program targets food insecurity among students. One out of every five kids relies on school meal programs for regular nutrition during the school year, but they have nowhere else to turn during the summer months.

"Many families can struggle to feed their children nutritious meals," said Jane Brand, nutrition programs director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Mountain Plains regional office. "Food costs can rise by $100s per month."

About 22.1 million students nationally, children and teens, get free or reduced meals through the schools, Brand said.

"But only one in six of those students, about 3.8 million, participate in the summer meals program," she said. "That's the critical gap that the summer program works to fill."

In the summer of 2016, the program provided 1.5 million free meals across the state, according to a Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition statement.

David Maki, food services manager with Westminster Public Schools, said the Westminster program provided 85,000 meals last summer. That number should be easily surpassed this summer, Maki said.

"Three years ago, we were only doing 7,000 meals and this year we'll do well over 100,000," Maki said. "We've taken it out of the schools, because that's not where the kids want to be during the summer. We've moved it out to parks and recreation centers and we've partnered with the city."

This year, Westminster is hosting the meals at eight locations — three schools and five city recreation facilities.

"I would say we are reaching more than 50 percent of the kids in our schools, and that number is just going to grow," Maki said. "We've gone out and surveyed the kids to find out what they want, you know, what they want to eat. It's not just providing food to the kids. It's also about actually getting the kids to eat the meals. That can be difficult, sometimes."

Maki said any student can get the meals. Adults, 18 and older, can eat for $3.50.

"But we're not going to be checking IDs," Maki said.

Westminster's kick-off event boasted a carnival-like atmosphere, with music, booths and giveaways. The Denver Bronco's cheerleaders attended, leading the kids in dance before the food was served.

Brehan Riley, from the Colorado Department of Education's nutrition office, said similar programs — minus the carnival — will be popping up in neighborhoods across the state.

"They can start whenever they are ready," Riley said. "There was a site that opened last week, others are starting up soon. It's just a matter of when their summer program is ready."

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