Lunch now served to hungry children at city pool, Pawtucket Public Library

Lunch now served to hungry children at city pool, Pawtucket Public Library

Summer Food Service Program grows again

PAWTUCKET - As the next piece of an ongoing effort to narrow the wide gap between the number of children who eat free lunches during the school year and the number who eat them during the summer, lunch is now being served at the city pool and at the Pawtucket Public Library.

Solange Morrissette, general manager of school services for Pawtucket's food service provider Sodexo, said she is "thrilled" to announce that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program run by Sodexo is expanding again in its fourth year.

Lunch is already being served at the Pawtucket library, said Morrissette, and a new food kiosk will be up and running by this Friday, July 12, at the Veterans Park pool behind Nathanael Greene Elementary School off Smithfield Avenue. Bag lunches are already being served there, she said.

The kiosk, said Morrissette, is one of several "new and creative" ways to get more children eating lunch. There is "incredible need" at the park, she said, as many children play in the pool all day "with nothing to eat."

"We've had the summer lunch program for four years and never made the connection that they're at the pool," she said.

By adding free lunch to locations like the library and pool, which complement existing lunch spots at city schools and parks, organizers hope to get more of the 6,000 Pawtucket children who eat free and reduced lunches during the school year to do so in the summer, said Morrissette. Only about 1,500 children are currently taking advantage of the summer food program, she said.

Backers of the summer food program, including U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, will all be among those at the Veterans Park pool this Friday, July 12, for an event designed to build excitement around the expanding summer food program.

The event, with the kiosk in full operation, will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. The Fuel Up to Play 60 truck will be on scene and there will be taste testing of local foods, said Morrissette. Farm Fresh Rhode Island will be hosting a build-your-own salsa station, among other fun activities.

The summer food program is all about letting children who are in "food-insecure households" know that they don't have to be in that hungry state, said Morrissette. Across Rhode Island, she said, 51,300 children receive free or reduced-price lunch, but only 5,940 accessed the Summer Food Service Program last summer, according numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The majority of children at risk of hunger in Rhode Island are missing out on free summer meals that exist right in their own communities, according to a news release. In some cases it is attributed to lack of access, but in most cases families are simply unaware of resources available to them.

Organizations and business partners like the Department of Agriculture, the Rhode Island Department of Education and Sodexo are joining resources to offer "the best model" for ensuring that students across the state are able to take advantage of healthy nutritious meals during the summer months.

Friday's event is a "great way to feed children and connect with the community," said Morrissette.

Because of Pawtucket's financial status, everyone from the area who is younger than 19 is eligible to eat five days a week at feeding sites across the city, now including the pool and library, said Morrissette.