As summer vacation comes, kids who rely on free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches during the school year are at risk of going hungry. In Schenectady, 80 percent of school children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
During the summer months, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s Summer Meals program is there to fill the need for those nearly 8,000 kids 18 and younger. The program, in its 22nd year, is initiating a pilot breakfast program.
“We already knew that lunch was the first meal of the day for many of the kids,” said Dave Taylor, director of the Summer Meals program. “There are several programs doing breakfast, so [for] the summer meals program that funds this it’s kind of a natural transition.”
The ministry, known as SICM, is a faith-based coalition of programs of social service and social justice. The Summer Meals program has 27 fixed sites, 14 mobile sites and delivers directly to two closed sites. Each year, the need grows bigger, according to Taylor, and so does the number of locations.
Besides the five-location pilot breakfast program — with mobile sites in Yates Village, Steinmetz Park, Ellis Hospital (McClellan site), Wallingford Park and Jerry Burrell Park — the program is also adding a lunch location in Collins Park in Scotia.
“Scotia was never recognized as a place that had a need,” Taylor said, “[but] this past year they finally approved Scotia for a summer lunch program because of the levels of poverty that are starting to crop up in that village.
“We’re just expanding because people keep telling us there’s a need out there and the numbers tell us that’s true.”
The summer program, which runs Monday through Friday from June 27 to Sept. 2, is also adding a Mid-summer Mac and Cheese Throw Down on Aug. 3. The event will pit four area restaurants against each other for the title of the best mac and cheese in the city.
Also new in 2016 is a SICM reading program that will be starting at some meal sites. Two interns will bring books to read and share.
Last summer, the Summer Meals program served an average of 2,000 children per day and the expectation is that number will grow in the summer to come. Taylor is not looking for such high numbers for breakfast in its first year but expects kids to turn out.
He estimated the program could get 200 kids per day, which would gross a total of 10,000 kids over the course of the 10 weeks. He thinks that is a good starting point. The numbers will determine the next step for the program.
“We’ll look at the numbers at the end of the year and see,” Taylor said. “Personally, I think breakfast is not a big meal for a lot of people in this country. But, for people who are impoverished, any meal’s important.”
The next step could be a few fixed locations around the city where people can sit and have their breakfast, as they do with lunch. Another possibility is moving from strictly cold meals, which will be the case for breakfast this summer, to serving some hot meals like pancakes and scrambled eggs, according to Taylor.
SICM is anticipating more than 1,000 volunteers will donate their time to the Summer Meals program. They will not only service meals, but play with the kids, tell them stories and do arts and crafts projects.
“The need always gets bigger and we’re committed to improving with this program,” Taylor said. “We have all hot meals for lunch this year at the fixed sites. [At] the mobile, we have pizza twice a week, which we didn’t have last year. So, we’re trying to introduce a better menu for the kids that offers options that maybe aren’t so healthy but they’re things that we know kids will eat because that’s what it’s all about.”
Although the program begins on June 27, not every site begins and ends on the same schedule and the daily hours vary for each site. For more information, contact SICM.