Free summer meals program kicks off at East Smithfield Library

Free summer meals program kicks off at East Smithfield Library

Enjoying a few bites from his turkey and cheese sandwich provided at no cost by the RIDE Summer Meal Program is Declan Grist, 2. He comes to the East Smithfield Public Library on Mondays to participate in the toddler story time. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – At the first summer meals site for the town, on its first day of service, nine children sat upstairs in the East Smithfield Public Library’s conference room, playing with plastic figurines and reading books, all waiting for lunch to arrive.

Minutes before noon, the children were done eating the turkey and cheese sandwiches individually packaged with a side of cherry tomatoes, a juice box, and milk, provided free of charge by the Rhode Island Department of Education Summer Meals Program.

On Monday, the East Smithfield Library, 50 Esmond St., hosted the town’s Summer Meal Program kick-off event. The program offers free lunches to anyone under the age of 18 every Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

RIDE’s Summer Meals Program supplies nutritious meals in communities where at least 50 percent of children are eligible for free and reduced-cost food services. In Smithfield, RIDE used census data to identify the library’s neighborhood as “block of need,” meeting income requirements.

East Smithfield Library Children’s Librarian Carol Derosier said the library was asked to serve the meals, and all she needed to do was coordinate the effort and provide the space. Most important to her was that it is an “open site,” where no identification or paperwork is necessary to receive a meal, and can be used by people outside of Smithfield as well, in her words, “no hassle.”

“The only criteria is to be 18 and under, so you can just come in and have a meal, and maybe take some time to enjoy the library after,” Derosier said.

She said she would like to get the word out to members of the community who may not typically come to the library, but she does not have a sense of what the daily need would be.

Lunches are preceded by children’s storytime, and followed by a children’s reading workshop on Mondays and Tuesdays, and art on Wednesday, Derosier said. A lunch menu calendar is available at the library, but meals are similar to what is served in schools.

Meals provided at the library are sponsored by the Johnston Public Schools, which uses its food supplier, Aramark, to deliver lunches to the site. RIDE Child Nutrition Program Specialist Jessica Petrolia said the program makes a considered effort to work with and be located in libraries.

“In a centrally located library in a neighborhood with sidewalks such as we have here, we expect to serve around 30 to 50 meals per day,” Petrolia said.

Last year, RIDE provided more than 470,000 meals at roughly 200 locations across 15 local communities. In Pawtucket, for example, Vets Park Pool in Pawtucket served around 100 meals per day last summer. Petrolia said the struggle is reaching teenagers who don’t go to community sites.

Each meal provides all five components to a nutritious plate, including fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and carbohydrates, which often consist of a milk, juice, veggie and sandwich.

“So everybody gets everything they need to be healthy,” Petrolia said.

Dial 211 for the United Way helpline for more information about meal site locations, and times.