North Providence offers first summer meal program

North Providence offers first summer meal program

North Providence kindergartener Raina Perreault works on opening her bag of carrots at Marieville Elementary School. The school was host to the federal summer meal program, offering residents younger than 18 free lunch from July 7 to Aug. 1. (Valley Breeze photo by Jessica Boisclair)

NORTH PROVIDENCE - For four weeks this summer children and teenagers in North Providence did not have to worry about finding a lunch, as dozens gathered at Marieville Elementary School each day for the free summer meal program.

Derek Hague, food service director for ARAMARK, said this was the first year that the North Providence school district participated in the program.

"It was a collaboration with Supt. Melinda Smith; she wanted us to look into offering it and we did," he said.

Smith said she asked Hague to apply for the summer meal program to "ensure that our students from low-income families would have access to a healthy lunch when school is not in session."

Hague said the Rhode Island Department of Education and United States Department of Agriculture promote the program for school districts that are considered "area-eligible."

He said any school district where half, or more than half, of the student population receives free or reduced lunch is considered eligible for the summer meal program.

Smith said the demographics of North Providence continue to change and the poverty rate is climbing.

According to Smith, the percentage of students living in low-income households is as follows: Centredale Elementary School, 57.7 percent; Marieville Elementary School, 56.4 percent; Greystone Elementary School, 54 percent; Whelan Elementary School, 43.3 percent; McGuire Elementary School, 38.3 percent; Stephen Olney Elementary School, 34 percent; Ricci Middle School, 49.8 percent; Birchwood Middle School, 48.4 percent; North Providence High School, 36.5 percent.

The summer meal program was available to residents under 18 from July 7 through Aug. 1 at Marieville.

Hague said the elementary school was chosen as the location because its student population has the highest percentage of free and reduced lunch "so we just decided that's the area with the most need."

Summer programs, he said, run for a short amount of time because schools must prepare for the upcoming year in August.

"For us, we thought it might be the most financially responsible to only hold it until Aug. 1 because we didn't know how it was going to go," he said.

He said between 20 and 25 people have attended the program each day since it began.

"It's not as many as we were hoping for but it's our first year," he said. "It's often the same children every day."

From 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., students will receive a boxed lunch with a sandwich, milk or juice and fruits and vegetables.

Hague said the program could be costly if residents do not utilize it because the USDA only reimburses school districts for the amount of lunches that are served.

Smith said the school administration is monitoring the number of meals provided and will have a good idea how successful the program was once all the data is collected.

If families continue to struggle after the summer meal program ends in August, he said ARAMARK assists with the menu for the food bank at Stephen Olney Elementary School and help is available there.