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Program offers free lunch in summer

All children under the age of 18 are eligible to participate ina program that provides free lunches at two locations, according toBrookhaven School District officials.

The lunches are available at Mamie Martin and Fannie Mullinselementary schools from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., said Tonya McSweyn,nutrition director for the district.

The Summer Food Service Program is designed to fill the hungergap for low-income children who are eligible to receive free orreduced-price meals during the school year, but is available inBrookhaven to all children under the age of 18, McSweyn said.

“The program is not open to adults. We cannot feed them,” shesaid.

Since the program started in late May, she said, an average of300-350 children have taken advantage of the program each day. Theschools will stop serving lunches June 26.

The lunches include the main entrée, fruit, a vegetable, breadand milk. Fruit juice is offered on some days as an addition to theregular meal, McSweyn said.

“We offer them a choice of fruit and vegetables so hopefullythat will increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables,” shesaid.

Valerie Jones, who brought her three children and a nephew tothe lunch program at Mamie Martin Elementary School Wednesday, saidthe program has “been a blessing” to her.

“It’s a lot of help because the kids really need the nutritionand it helps us who are less fortunate to be able to bring our kidsto eat,” she said.

Jones said she worries that without the program her childrenwould not be able to eat healthy during the long summer months.

“We would have to try to scrap up or borrow money to try to feedthe children,” she said. “A lot of people at home don’t have thenutrition they need to keep them healthy.”

Jones is no stranger to the program. Her eldest son, JavonteForehand, has used the summer program for years and alsoparticipates in the National School Lunch Program, which providesfree lunches during the school year. Her other two children, Erinand Eric Gardner, are too young for school, but participate in thesummer program.

McSweyn said school officials were surprised that the number ofthose participating this year did not increase significantly withthe depressed economy.

“We’re probably serving a few more than we did last year, but ithasn’t been significant,” she said. “We really thought ourparticipation would be higher given the economy.”

The summer lunch program is federally funded through the U.S.Department of Agriculture, McSweyn said.