Jarrien, Blake, Christian, Josiah, Logan and Arianna took a five-minute walk from their house down to the Copperas Cove Junior High School cafeteria for a healthy lunch Monday.
The children said it will probably be the only full meal they get all day.
Eating lunch at the school is routine for the six siblings. There is no cost for the meals to the children since it is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas Department of Agriculture’s Seamless Summer Feeding Program designed to ensure children do not go hungry while out of school on summer break.
“We come here because we don’t have much food,” Arianna, 8, said. “We have some peanut butter and some cereal. But we get more food here instead.”
Her eyes twinkled as she recited that her favorite foods served at the cafeteria are pizza and ice cream. She said her most “unfavorite” meal is vegetables.
“I only like carrots and peas and green beans, but not the other stuff. Sometimes, I eat it anyway because I am still hungry,” she said.
Her brother Christian said the family is not ostracized because it does not have money for meals.
“It’s actually pretty fun here. Everyone is really nice,” he said.
The Copperas Cove Independent School District has seen its numbers more than double for both breakfast and lunch in its Summer Feeding Program this year.
The numbers for June went from 2,070 for breakfast in 2013 to 4,920 in 2014. The district fed lunch to 3,417 students in June 2013 and stepped up its noon meal program in 2014 to 9,146 in June.
More than 100 children pour into the junior high school Monday through Friday for a free meal.
Melissa Murry-Paez, Cove ISD’s child nutrition director, said parents can purchase a meal to eat with their children for $3.25
“We had a lot more sites open this summer. Last year, we had three. This year, we had five. And we did a lot more community outreach,” Paez said.
“We sent letters to day care centers, churches and opened a new site at the YMCA summer camp at City Park, which was very successful.”
The new YMCA City Park site saw 40 to 50 students come in for lunch each day and occasionally the numbers climbed as high as 60, Lore Reams, YMCA’s summer camp director, said.
“It was very beneficial for these kids to have a quality meal to eat for lunch,” she said. “The program ran really smoothly. It went very, very well. I can’t think of a thing we will change for next year.”
Paez said the program is beneficial in many ways to the community.
“I’ve seen it saving parents some money. When you have kids at home during the summer, electricity goes up and now parents have to provide three meals. So it’s a double whammy,” she said.
Additional site next year
An additional site is planned next year at the YMCA on Clara Drive in an effort to reach more teenagers, Paez said.
“The USDA does not say that we have to feed kids a meal during the summer months. But as a district, we want to ensure all of our children get fed. I don’t want any child going without food,” she said.