Health & Fitness

Summer lunch program helps feed hungry children in Merced County

Chufu Her, 8, a student at Ada Givens Elementary School, checks out the fruit during the Merced City School District's Summer Meals Program at Peterson Elementary in Merced, Calif., Thursday, July 7, 2016. The Atwater Elementary School District begins their program on June 6 and the Merced City School District begins on June 12. Both programs last through July and no applications or enrollment is needed.
Chufu Her, 8, a student at Ada Givens Elementary School, checks out the fruit during the Merced City School District's Summer Meals Program at Peterson Elementary in Merced, Calif., Thursday, July 7, 2016. The Atwater Elementary School District begins their program on June 6 and the Merced City School District begins on June 12. Both programs last through July and no applications or enrollment is needed. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Just because the end of the school year is approaching doesn’t mean that’s the end of breakfast and lunch meals for students and their families.

Various students depend on the meals they receive at school to fill their bellies and to keep that consistency school districts in Merced County participate in Summer Feeding Programs, that provides children ages 18 and younger with free breakfast and lunch meals at various sites Monday through Friday.

The Atwater Elementary School District will start their program on June 6 and the Merced City School District on June 12. Both programs last through July and no applications or enrollment is needed.

There are many families who experience food insecurity, said Mary Williams, school nutrition services supervisor for the Merced City School District, meaning there isn’t a sufficient amount of food in the households all the time.

In Merced County, nearly 29 percent of children live in food insecure households, according to kidsdata.org, about 7 percent above the state average.

About 53 percent of people in Merced County are living in poverty, the 2016 Community Health Assessment reported; about 18 percent above the state average. In Merced County, about two in three children live in poverty, the study reported.

Having the program fills in that gap when children aren’t attending school, Williams said.

“It helps them stretch their budget and their food budget,” she said. “Especially over the summer because they can come participate and kids have two meals.”

For the past two school years, about 81 percent of students throughout the Merced City School District have qualified for free or reduced lunch, Williams said. Last year 22,000 breakfast and lunch meals were served during the summer to students and other children who participated in the program, she said.

In the county, almost 80 percent of children are eligible for a subsidized school meal program, according to a study by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

More often than not, children living in Merced County and the rest of the Valley lack access to fresh and healthy foods, the study said. Children experiencing food insecurities are more likely to develop asthma, have more behavioral problems and perform worse on reading and math tests in elementary school.

Pediatricians have noted that when children are uncertain where their next meal will come from their bodies will try to conserve every calorie, that correlates with overeating and obesity.

It’s not always certain where kids receive their food during summer months because of the reliance households have on school meals. In some cases, school officials have said kids come to school on Monday’s having not eaten since their last school lunch on Friday.

Monica Velez: 209-385-2486

Summer Feeding Program Sites

Merced City School District June 12 to July 14, Monday to Friday

Breakfast:

Reyes Elementary School, 123 N Street, 7:55 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.

Rudolph Rivera Middle School, 945 Buena Vista Drive, 8:40 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Stephen Leonard Park, 640 T Street, 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Lunch:

Reyes Elementary School, 123 N Street, 12:45 p.m to 1:15 p.m.

Merced Meadows, 3125 Meadows Avenue, 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Stephen Leonard Park, 640 T Street, 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

United Methodist Church, 899 Yosemite Parkway, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Rudolph Rivera Middle School, 945 Buena Vista Drive, 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Women Infants and Children, 1235 W Main Street, 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Hoffmeister Center/ Central Presbyterian Church, 1920 Canal Street, 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m.

McNamara Center, 1040 Canal Street, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Atwater Elementary School District June 6 to July 28, Monday to Friday

Breakfast:

Shaffer Elementary, 1434 California Street, 7:25 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Veterans Park, 2680 Buhach Road, 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Lunch:

Shaffer Elementary, 1434 California Street, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Veterans Park, 2680 Buhach Road, 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.

Heller Park,1450 Herman Avenue, 11 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.

Ralston Park, 1550 Third Street, 11:50 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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