NO KID HUNGRY:  Pulaski County Provides Free Summer Meals for Kids

Lunches for the children attending the Randolph Park Summer Camp are packed with nutritious and appealing food by (L-R) Connie Slaughter, Critzer Elementary School Nutritionist, Michelle Wright, Critzer Elementary School Nutritionist, and Lisa Price, Riverlawn Elementary School Nutritionist. Looking on at the far left is Ethelene Sadler, Pulaski County Summer Meals Program Director. Absent from the photo was Elaine East, Summer Meals Coordinator for Pulaski County. (Photos by Danielle Reid)

With hearts full of compassion, local organizations, partnering with No Kid Hungry, will be providing meals this summer for Pulaski County children who may be at risk of not getting three daily meals.

Statistics state that 1 in 6 children in Virginia don’t know where their next meal is coming from; and 20% of children in Pulaski County are food insecure.  With a county population of 34,680, that equates to several thousand Pulaski County children potentially going hungry.

“There is a great deal of concern about kids getting breakfast and lunch in the summer,” comments Ethelene W. Sadler, Pulaski County School Nutrition Director. “Pulaski County is a high-needs area for children.  We see a lot of children where we don’t know when their next meal will be.”

Lisa Price, Riverlawn Elementary School Nutritionist, places a tray of chicken drumsticks in the warmer at the PCHS Central Kitchen where they are preparing lunch for the Randolph Park Summer Camp program. Children at the camp receive nourishing meals through the summer feeding program.

It is believed that schools effectively feeding children and preventing hunger benefit from better attendance, reduced tardiness, fewer visits to the nurse’s office, and better academic performance. Academic success improves the success for the community as a whole.

“No Kid Hungry helps us to reach every child through numerous grants and extended meal programs like alternate breakfast programs and the summer meals program.  It is unbelievable what a friend they are to school nutrition programs.  Pulaski County received a $5,000 grant from No Kid Hungry for the 2019 summer meals program,” according to Sadler.

Sadler also commended the Dairy Alliance.  “They provide grants and are always there to help us get the nourishment to childen when schools are out,” she added.

No Kid Hungry Virginia partners with schools to connect eligible kids to federal nutrition programs during the school year, then continues with programs to ensure no child is left hungry during the summer.  The summer meals program began in Pulaski County on June 3 and continues to August 2nd at various locations.

There are open enrollment locations and closed enrollment locations.  At the open enrollment locations free meals are available to all eligible children from age 2 – 18 or age 21 for those with disabilities.  Accompanying adults/parents can eat with their child at the site.  A small fee of $1.00 for breakfast or $2.00 for lunch for the adult/parent is required.  Closed enrollment locations are where a child needs an application to participate at that site.  Examples would be where there is limited room or Head Start at NRCC, or a child enrolled in daycare.

Sadler believes the biggest barrier to overcome with the summer meals program is transportation – getting the children to the site.  They are using various media outlets to let people know about the program but ask that individuals in Pulaski County also help to get the word out.

Elaine East, the Pulaski County Schools Summer Meals Program Coordinator, explained the summer meals are prepared in central kitchens using school nutritional employees.  “Meals are prepared and provided by the Summer Food Service Program affiliated with Pulaski County Public Schools and are available to all eligible children without charge. Hot meals are monitored by school nutritionists onsite to ensure they meet local health department regulations.  The safety of the food is our priority – to make sure all the children are served safe, nutritious food.  We place a high priority on the quality of our meals and make sure all the food safety standards are followed,” added East.

“Two hot meals (breakfast and lunch) are available at various sites, but on occasion there may be a picnic lunch.  Free meals are available for any child 18 years and younger, but the meals must be consumed at the site.”

Acceptance and participation requirements for the program and all activities are the same for all regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service. Meals will be provided on a first come-first serve basis and must be consumed at the participation site.

East and Sadler both are grateful to the dedicated team of school nutrition employees who participate in the Summer Meals Program, commenting, “Employees are paid but still they are giving up their summer – working sometimes outside in the heat.  This team of folks who come back year after year want to come back because they have that passion – to see children served food during the summer.  Our school nutrition staff really has a heart for the children.  They really care a lot about these kids and want to make sure they get meals during the summer.”

On this day at the PCHS Central Kitchen, three employees of Pulaski County Public Schools’ Nutrition program, along with Sadler, were preparing 147 lunches to be delivered to the Randolph Park Summer Camp.

Connie Slaughter, Site Supervisor for the Summer Meals Program arrives daily at 6:30 a.m. to begin making the breakfasts.  Connie comments that she “would like to see more kids take advantage of the open enrollment sites to make sure they get free lunches.”

Michelle Wright supervises the Critzer Elementary School Nutritional Program during the school year; and supervises the Summer Meal Program distribution at Randolph Park.  She “likes to help out kids and make sure they have good meals during the summer.  Most people don’t realize how many kids in Pulaski County need this program.”

Lisa Price is the Riverlawn Elementary School Nutritionist.  She said she “enjoys making sure children have food and wishes more children could take advantage of the Summer Meals Program.  We know more children are going hungry than what we serve.”

The meals are prepared in three Pulaski County Public School Central Kitchens and are appealing with generous portions.  One such meal was prepared in the PCHS kitchen and consisted of a large chicken drumstick, mashed potatoes, fresh baked biscuit and strawberry parfait for dessert.  A variety of lunch foods are served and the menu changes daily.  The weekly menu includes calzones and garden salad, Wild Mike’s Pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with a vegetable, cheese, or fruit and dessert.

Breakfast is served at many of the locations and the menu includes an egg and cheese slider, breakfast pizza, pancakes, sausage biscuit, blueberry or chocolate chip muffins.  Parents can accompany their children and pay $1 for their own breakfast or $2 for their own lunch.

Lunch at the Randolph Park Summer Camp on Alexander Road in Dublin takes place under the large pavilion.  Camp Director Rachel Parker has the meal distribution well organized and manages to efficiently get 130 – 190 campers fed and back to enjoying their other camp activities such as crafts, swimming and playing games.

During the school year, Parker teaches 8th grade math at Dublin Middle School.  As with the other employees of the Summer Meal Program, Parker is “Concerned that kids don’t get proper nutrition during summer.  Some have both parents working and the Randolph Park Summer Camp is a great option for parents who need a break from the cost of child care.  A week of full time camp is only $65, including meals.”

Part time camp (3-days or less) is discounted.  There currently is a waiting list for the camp.

All the employees of the Summer Meal Program seem to have the same concern and motivation for being involved:  they want to do their part to help make sure that No Kid goes Hungry in Pulaski County during the summer months.

“We want to ensure children get nutrition during the summer when school is out.  It is heartbreaking to think the children are not getting the proper nourishment when not in school and going hungry when school isn’t in session.  This program is not just for the disadvantaged.  We want to make sure that everybody who wants a meal has access.  We don’t care about their economic status.  We just want to see children eat during the summer,” Sadler added.

For additional information about the summer meals program, please contact:

Ethelene W. Sadler – School Nutrition Director (540) 994-2523  esadler@pcva.us

Elaine East – Summer Meals Coordinator (540) 643-0836   eeast@pcva.

For information about the Randolph Park Summer Camp, go to: www.randolphpark.org

By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot

Children in the Randolph Park Summer Camp program enjoy eating their lunches, provided by the Summer Food Service Program, under the large park pavilion. The lunches were prepared in the PCHS Central Kitchens by nutritionists employed by the Pulaski County School District. The summer meals program in Pulaski County runs from June 3 through August 2nd at various locations.
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