Rev. Phillip Grigsby knows you can’t put young people in a “deep freeze” over the summer.
However, someone has to feed them for 10 weeks when school is out, including on weekends.
For the last 25 years, the Schenectady Community Ministries has been doing just that, providing free food to kids and teens ages 18 and younger each summer. The menu, which is similar to a school lunch, includes hot foods, such as hot dogs, colder meals and milk. Like a school lunch, it touches on all of the required food groups.
And now the operation is expanding.
According to its website, SiCM will introduce five new locations to provide children and teens 18 and younger with food, offering a total of 31 sites for lunch and six for breakfast. The program offers 13 mobile lunch sites, six mobile breakfast sites and 18 fixed lunch sites. The new sites include the Christ Centered Unity Missionary Baptist Church, the C.O.C.O.A. House and Vale Park, among others. The sites often include more than just food, incorporating games and activities from the Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., the YMCA and additional volunteer groups.
Last year, the SiCM served more 53,000 meals to children and teens, a 3,000-meal increase from the 50,000 it served in 2017.
While SiCM has served as many as 75,000 meals as part of the program in the past, that number is no longer reachable because of updated federal congregate feeding requirements, which placed limits on the way SiCM and similar providers offered mobile food sites. Children are now required to remain at the mobile site while they eat their meals, which prevents SiCM from serving as many young people as it has in the past.
Still, Grigsby wants to make sure teens in the area are fed, too.
“When you say children, teens think they’re not welcome,” Grigsby, SiCM’s executive director, said.
Grigsby said teens are a big underserved group and they have just as much need when school is out.
“Hunger does not take a vacation,” Grigsby said. “Our youth when they are in school count on school meals and the summer food program fills the gap in the summer.”
While the program started with the purpose of providing food the community, it’s been feeding the community economically, too.
The program’s economic benefits are plentiful, Grigsby said, and include hiring 25 people for the summer and bringing in $300,000.
SiCM’s Summer Meals Program runs through Aug. 30 at 28 of the 37 locations. The official kickoff will be held at the Greater Faith Christian Center, located at 809 Strong St. in Schenectady, on Tuesday, July 2, beginning at noon.
A schedule of upcoming summer meal program hours and locations can be viewed online at sicm.us.