Feeding nearly 1,500 kids a day is no easy task, but for the estimated 8,000 food insecure children in Schenectady, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s summer lunch program is essential during their time off from school.
“We have 10,000 school-age children in the city of Schenectady,” said Rachel Curtis, summer lunch program director. “Out of those ten, 8,000 are estimated to be food insecure. So now all children eat for free during the school year, but in the summer they don’t have anything so this program steps in and provides a midday meal that kids would otherwise not receive.”
In the program’s 21st year, SICM has added nine new lunch sites to total 45. The addition of two customized mobile sites also assisted with the program’s growth.
Curtis has already seen an increase in meals served. Last year, SICM distributed over 65,000 meals and this year and they are preparing for at least 80,000.
“Monday was the fifth day of the program and we already served the average of last summer so were increasing every day basically,” she said.
The program held a kick-off event on Wednesday at one of their most popular sites, Jerry Burrell Park, complete with a magic show, bubble bonanza, and book giveaway.
“Anybody is welcome,” said Rev. Phillip N. Grisby of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry. “A lot of the sites have books, they have coloring, they do have other things to go with the food. Kids come early and stay late.”
According to Grisby, the kids get to know the site supervisors individually and sometimes even write thank you notes for the volunteers.
“All we hear from everybody is that this means a great deal,” he said. “It really helps people. We’ve had a number of people who are just really grateful. This enables families to really make it through the summer.”
SICM also partners with United Way of the Capital Region, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and the Schenectady County Youth Bureau sports camp to provide day programs at various lunch sites.
“Another aspect that is important is the community partnership,” Curtis said. “They provide summer enrichment activities and then we provide the food so a child gets an overall summer experience rather than just a meal.”
There is no registration or enrollment required. Anyone 18 and under is eligible to receive a meal, which might include, pizza, sandwiches, or chicken patties.
“It think it really makes a difference for people,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. “And some of the kids we’ve seen today knowing that there’s a meal for them makes such a difference during the school year but during the summer as well.”
The program runs weekdays through September 4. Times vary at each location but range from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The schedule is available online at www.sicm.us.
“The learning doesn’t stop, the eating shouldn’t stop either,” Santabarbara said.