School district, nonprofits providing food for local children in need
by Morgan Smith
Kids in Matthews and Mint Hill will have more chances to experience their favorite cheese dippers and chicken nuggets this summer, and with the help of a new texting feature, summer feeding locations for families in need will be a lot easier to find.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, No Child Hungry North Carolina and various other organizations are working to encourage more at-risk children on free and reduced lunch during the school year to come out to schools and other various sites across the community to keep their bellies full during the summer. Free breakfasts and lunches are available to students ages 18 and younger at dozens of area locations, including Independence High School which serves breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Butler High School hosts free lunches from 11 a.m. to noon and New Beginnings Community Church serves breakfast and lunch from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
No registration or proof of income is required.
“No Kid Hungry set up the texting capability because we heard frequently from people about where to find the meals and even who to ask,” Tamara Baker, No Kid Hungry N.C. representative, said.
With more than 74,000 students on free or reduced lunch last year in CMS, providing breakfast and lunch for students during the summer isn’t a new idea. The district has been feeding students during the summer for decades. But with only 13 percent of students in North Carolina taking advantage of summer food programs, No Child Hungry North Carolina and its partners such as the North Carolina Department for Health and Human Services and Department of Public Instruction, are taking steps across the state to spread awareness of the summer program and encourage more families to benefit.
CMS is one of 12 school districts participating in the No Child Hungry pilot program, which launched last September with the help of Gov. Beverly Perdue. The program includes a new texting feature where area families can text in their zip code to find the nearest breakfast or lunch site.
“This is the first year we have been involved with summer meals,” Baker said. “There were always summer programs. What No Kid Hungry does is bringing together the collaboration – we’re trying to create more outreach programs.“
CMS has had one of the greatest impacts on hunger in the state, Baker said.
“It’s the same program they’ve been running,” she added. “We’re just helping them with more outreach.”
Last summer alone, CMS served more than 270,000 lunches. With the addition of the texting feature and added outreach, Amy Harkey, assistant director of the CMS child nutrition program, said the school system expects to nearly double that number.
“Our goal this year is to serve almost a half a million meals. We’re seeing growth in all the campsites’ registration and the more kids we can feed, the more we see better learning when they come back to school,” Harkey said.
Harkey added the school system saw an increase in need over the past school year. In return, the district expects to expand the number of food sites from 152 last year to near 180 this year because of the greater need.
“I feel as if we have seen an increase in need throughout the school year,” Harkey said. “We hope children are playing outdoors and kids need the extra calories. It’s a service to the community.”
And Harkey is hopeful the new texting feature will open the doors to more students.
“I think texting will be nice because once the word gets out, most kids can text, most parents can text,” she said.
Free breakfasts and lunches are available to students ages 18 and younger at Independence High School. Monday through Thursday. No registration or proof of income is required. To find other summer feeding locations near you, text FoodNC to 877877. After receiving the prompt, enter your zip code. Standard text messaging rates apply. A list of locations also is available online at www.nc.nokidhungry.org.
Butler High School, 1810 Matthews-Mint Hill Road , is open 11 a.m. to noon for lunch only.
Independence is located at 1967 Patriot Drive in Charlotte.