As the children lined up near the Kenmore Elementary gym on a recent Tuesday at noon, Tiffany Feist greeted each boy and girl with a smile and nod of the head and handed them a free bag of lunch.
Some kids grabbed their bag and walked off right away to eat. Others were more particular about their bag’s contents, wanting just the right items for their repast. Each lunch must meet United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards: milk, fruit, vegetable, grain and meat or other protein.
“This is fun. It was kind of a surprise, because I thought we were going to come here and play, but then my friend said we were getting lunch,” said Angela Silva, 8, who added that visiting with her friends was a bonus.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, 50 percent or more of the kids living in the Northshore area qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, said Feist, noting that this is the first year the free Summer Meals Program has been held at a Northshore School District (NSD) location. (The program is a collaboration of the NSD, Northshore YMCA, Dale Turner Family YMCA, Vineyard Church/Turning Point, Ronald United Methodist Church and the Edmonds School District.)
The free lunches have been available at Kenmore Elementary since July 9 and the program will run through Aug. 31 for on-site YMCA Discovery Camp and Kenmore Summer Camp participants and children in the community. For information, visit www.ymcanorthshore.org.
Gretchen’s Shoebox Express of Seattle provides the lunches, which are reimbursable for the participating organizations through the USDA Summer Feeding Program.
Feist, the site supervisor, said the first two weeks they served 408 lunches, and since then they’ve served about 45-50 per day.
“It’s growing, which has really been fun to watch. And it creates a good sense of community, as well,” said Feist, noting that the kids eat lunch together with their volunteer leaders. After eating, they enjoy playground activities or arts and crafts like watercolor painting and more.
Liam Castillo and Max Custer, both 7, said it’s fun lunching and playing with their friends. Castillo favors a bagel with cream cheese the most in his lunch bag and tackling the obstacle course afterward.
Laurie Gerrard, associate executive director at the Northshore YMCA, noted that her organization emphasizes healthy living, youth development and social responsibility — all three are at work with the Summer Meals Program.
“This strengthens the foundation of our community. This is our program in action,” said Gerrard, who has lived in Bothell for 32 years, and enjoys getting out from behind her desk at the YMCA and participating in this program. “This is ‘real stuff’ to me.”
She added that a well-fed child is healthy in both mind and body and they can “grow and thrive” properly.