Program provides nutritious meals during summer

Staff photo by Maayan Schechter Children, from left, Kendall Risher, 7, Chris Farrow, 12, and Dayton Raymond, 12, finish lunch before going to the pool through the Boys & Girls Club.

If some children did not participate in the Summer Food Service Program, they probably would not get nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch, and instead eat junk food, said Samantha Cheatham, unit director for the Boys & Girls Club.

In Aiken County schools, 53 percent of children receive free or reduced meals and 13,000 are eligible to receive free or reduced meals, according to statistics from Aiken Public Housing.

The summer program provides meals to families with children 18 years or younger, who would normally receive free or reduced lunch during the year. These meals are instead provided during the summer.

There are more than 72 sites throughout Aiken County, but Lawton said they are always open for new sites, especially in rural areas.

Sites like the Boys & Girls Club on Laurens Street must use the Salvation Army behind the building due to increased size in summer participants.

“Twenty-one million children get free or reduced-price lunch during the school year,” said Ross Fraser, media relations director of Feeding America. “When school’s out, and although the United States Department of Agriculture is trying, you only reach between two and three kids. That’s about 18 million kids who are going without food, and it hits the kids who are low income.”

Chanosha Lawton, deputy director of the Aiken Housing Authority, said the lack of sites in rural areas in Aiken and the lack of public transportation make it harder for children to have access to services like the summer program.

“We’d probably have more kids if there was some type of public transportation,” Cheatham said. “Kids usually get dropped off by their parents, and most of them come from single-parent homes.”

About 4,000 meals are served in one day – 2,000 for breakfast and 2,000 for lunch.

Last summer, Lawton said the program served a little less than 2,000 meals. She said she believes the numbers have gone up likely because more people are aware of the program.

While the Boys & Girls Club does not serve children outside the City of Aiken, Aiken has been very good at opening up to them, said Shawn Risher, executive director of the club.

“During the school year, we do reach out to the kids very well,” Cheatham said. “But we would like to see more public transportation for them.”

The summer program food ends Aug. 9, and the fall program begins Aug. 19 for $5 for the first child per week.

For more information about the Summer Food Service Program, visit www.aikenhousing.org.

Maayan Schechter is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard news team and joined the paper in July. She graduated from the University of North Carolina Asheville with a degree in mass communications – journalism.