The efforts of a group of community people, led by United Way director Jean Kresse, to establish a free summer meals program for kids in Nevada, have paid off. Thanks to the willingness of Youth and Shelter Services of Eastern Story County to sponsor the program, "Food That’s in When School is Out!" will become a reality during the months of June and July.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, from June 10 through July 31, free lunch will be offered for "solid food eaters" (kids) through age 18, from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (1127 10th St.). Along with lunch, free activities and a snack are available until 2 p.m.
Households with school-aged children or youth enrolled in Nevada Schools received summer lunch program information and a registration form just prior to June 1. If you did not receive that form, you may go to the Nevada School website (http://nevadacommunityschools.weebly.com) or call YSS of Eastern Story County (515-382-6874) to sign up.
Barb Mittman, director of YSS of Eastern Story County, said the fact that the program can be offered for Nevada is "very cool!"
Earlier this year, when this program was being explored, those who were meeting to accomplish that mission were looking at sites in the south part of town, as mandated by where the census tract of lower income families was showing the most need. But, Mittman said, a new census tract that was available by March showed the tract of available sites could include some of the main and north portions of town, and when St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was approached, Mittman said, "the church graciously offered its facility to help us."
The meals and programs offered each Monday and Wednesday through the end of July will take place in St. Patrick’s fellowship hall, the newer part of the church on the south side. "We are grateful for the openness of St. Patrick’s to allow us to utilize their church as a site for this program."
The program will be able to serve meals to all children, regardless of their status as free- or reduced-cost meal recipients during the school year. "This is open to all kids, 18 years and younger, to enjoy," Mittman said.
Kids who attend the Nevada Community Resource Center during the summer will take part in the meals program, and Mittman said YSS is also encouraging mentor/mentee pairs to take part (adult mentors would have to pay for their meal) and YSS is reaching out to day care providers to bring their children to St. Patrick’s for lunch. Mittman said it’s OK, too, for day care providers who have infants to bring along what those children need to eat, and for any other child to come and eat with a sack lunch if they just want to eat there and then take part in the activities.
As for activities and programming, Mittman said there has been a great response from organizations to help in this endeavor. Some of those who will provide programming or have expressed an interest include Story County Extension, Sports Bowl, the Nevada Public Library, VERB, Story County Farm Bureau and some local teachers.
The great thing about the programming and activities, Mittman said, is that those kids who stay for this part of the day will also receive a second carton of milk and a snack before they leave. "We’re going to have lots of fruits and vegetables and really well-balanced food selections that will hopefully be very attractive to kids," Mittman said.
Once a meal site has been established, it can continue to operate in future years. The only requirement is that it stays within the area of town that the ensus tract allows. Mittman said if that tract changes, the meal site location might have to be changed. But for now, she’s very excited to start serving meals at the Catholic church two days a week, and she hopes that with the help of Kresse and the United Way, the program in Nevada can expand in coming years, either by increasing the number of days/meals served or by opening a second site.
"We understand that this is a county seat community and we need to be able to provide services and meet the needs of kids and families," Mittman said. "One of the reasons Iowa has been targeted is because of all the kids who receive free and reduced meals during the school year; studies show that only 7 percent of those kids participate in a free meals program in the summertime."
In recent weeks, Mittman said she’s been busy trying to organize all the details of sponsoring the program. One thing she is very much in need of from the community are volunteers to help at the meals. Volunteers must fill out an application and be screened, per USDA requirements, so Mittman asks that those interested quickly pick up application forms at the YSS office, Nevada Hardware or any of the community’s churches.
If there are kids who want to come and eat on Monday, but the family didn’t get a chance to fill out a registration form, Mittman said that’s OK. Bring the kids Monday and fill out a form at the meal site. "We asked for forms to be turned in at the school offices by June 3 so we could get an idea of how many kids we would need food for, but we’ll be fine if a few extra kids show up," Mittman said.