Fewer sites hosting summer lunch program

Last year, 17 sites around Middletown offered lunches to children who were eligible for free or reduced lunches in the Middletown City School District, said Maurice Maxwell, executive director of Family Service of Middletown, which oversees the program. But this year, 10 sites, a drop of 41 percent, will be open starting Monday and operating through Aug. 9, Maxwell said.

Maxwell said the cost of operating the program last year was about $159,000, and this year, with a streamlined staff and resources, the estimated cost is $93,930, or 41 percent less. He said the program — named in honor of the late Carel Cosby, a longtime principal at Oneida Elementary School in Middletown and college basketball referee — is funded by the state and through local financial and in-kind donations.

He said the decision to scale back this year was difficult because he understands the need for the services has remained steady recently. He said 30,000 meals were served to children last year. That number probably would have been higher, but because of the extreme heat last summer, and since some sites are located in parks without shelter, some children stayed home, he said.

In the Middletown district, 4,546 students, or 71 percent, of the 6,403 students are eligible for the program because of their financial status, district officials said.

Maxwell said these reductions are coming at a time when he’d like to expand the program and provide more meals to more children and offer sites closer to their residences. He said it’s important for the distribution sites to be located in neighborhoods where the services are needed, so children won’t have to cross dangerous intersections. He said children in the program typically don’t have reliable transportation so they walk from their homes to the sites.

Each meal consists of a meat, milk, grain, fruit and vegetable, he said. He said sometimes, especially in the summer, children don’t eat balanced meals. He said it’s imperative for those children who receive free meals during the school year to do the same in the summer. He called lunch “the key meal” for the children.

“It’s critical for early childhood development,” he said.

Also, every Friday, the children in the program will receive six meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday — through a back pack program that’s funded through the state and supported by Gov. John Kasich. Middletown Family Service is working with the state to hopefully provide a farmer’s market every Friday, Maxwell said. The executive order from Kasich provides $500,000 for distributions of locally grown fruits and vegetables to needy families around the state, the governor’s office said.

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