Thousands of children in the Mansfield school district will rely on food programs this summer for their daily nourishment, and one of the programs depends heavily on volunteers.
The Feed the Kids program started in 2007, providing bags of child-friendly food to students who qualify for free and reduced lunches during the school year.
This summer, the program will provide an estimated 12,000 meals, 1,000 a week, to needy children in the district, said Phil Stover, co-chairman of the program. It’s all non-perishable food that’s easy for children to prepare that’s been recommended by the district’s nutrition experts.
Children who qualify received letters in their backpacks telling their parents where and when the various pantries that are participating will be giving out food.
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“It’s all about kids. We can’t even lose focus on the fact that what we’re trying to do is raise the standard of living for the kids in our community,” Stover said. “We think that by doing that we’ll raise the standard of living in the community itself.”
Now in its 10th year, Feed the Kids will need cash donations to buy the food — the costs for this year’s program will be an estimated $80,000. But just as important, Stover said they need volunteers to unload the trucks, set the food on the table and get it bagged up so it can be distributed to the food pantries. The volunteers are needed for an hour at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every Wednesday throughout the summer at Harvesting International, 150 S. Sixth Ave. in southwest Mansfield.
Summer is a week longer this year so more donations and volunteers are needed.
Mansfield ISD’s summer meal program will serve an estimated 37,000 meals, the most since it started four years ago, said Rita Denton, director of student nutrition for the district. Hot meals will be served for breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria at select campuses throughout the summer. The food will be similar to what's offered throughout the school year and it’s available for free to anyone 18 and younger. It’s not just for students who receive free and reduced lunches during the school year.
“We’re passionate about how it’s growing,” Denton said. “At the end of the day, we love to make the food fun and delicious for our kids.”
Unlike Feed the Kids, the district is reimbursed by the federal government for the cost of food, labor and supplies. Last year, the district received $80,000.
Denton said it’s critical that students get adequate food in the summer when they are playing and running hard.
The school district also partnered with the Mansfield Public Library to offer meals to children for their summer programs and events. The district will also harvest fresh fruit from the agriculture program at Tarver-Rendon Elementary School.
“It helps them avoid the junk food,” she said. “At the end of the day, their bodies and minds are still growing even though it’s summertime it’s really important that they get nutrition all the way through.”
Without programs like these, students who get school lunches at a free or reduced rate would often go hungry in the summer, Stover said.
“When they come back to school in the fall, they haven’t had good nutrition over the summer,” Stover said. “When they come back after the summer, their reading comprehension has dropped significantly and that puts them behind. A malnourished child doesn’t learn very well and also it’s a discipline problem.”
Half Price Books also donates books so the low-income children will have better access to books. The Rotary Club’s summer reading program offers prizes for students who read books and do a report on it.
“The nurses are telling us it’s working that the kids are coming back in much better shape and that’s rewarding for us,” Stover said.
The school district advertises both the programs to help get the word out.
“Our programs really complement each other,” Denton said.