Hunger, Just Around The Block

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Social services

Not every child at the Chatham Summer Food Service Program site comes from a needy family. All kids are served, regardless of their family income, ensuring that needy kids are never stigmatized.  FILE PHOTO

For many visitors to Cape Cod in the summertime, the issue of hunger might be limited to finding the best place for fried clams or a lobster roll. But for more than a few year-rounders, it's about where their child's next meal is coming from.

As they've done in years past, the “Food 4 Kids” program will be providing USDA-subsidized free lunches to children in Chatham and Harwich as part of a federal effort to fight poverty. Volunteers will begin serving the meals on Monday behind the Chatham Community Center and at the Harwich Junior Theatre Arts Center on Sisson Road in Harwich Center. In all, there are six feeding sites in Chatham and Harwich, and another 11 between Orleans and Provincetown.

Using USDA food provided through Project Bread, Lower Cape volunteers gather at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans each weekday morning, where they cook, assemble and package lunches that are distributed at a half-dozen sites from Harwich to Provincetown. The meals are nutritionally complete, and for a certain number of youngsters, they're the only balanced meal of the day.  The problem is acute in the summertime when there are no school lunches.

"The Hidden Face of Hunger," a Cape Cod Chronicle special report from 2013.

Kids who show up for the meal are required to eat it on-site, and they are provided the food with no questions asked. In Chatham, the lunch is served in the same area where the town's recreation department operates its summer programs. It's a happy scene, with youngsters taking a break from play to sit together and eat. Typically, as many as 75 kids are fed at the site; not all come from needy families, Organizer Ruth Campbell said.

“But because they're eating together, there's no stigma,” she said. A retired teacher, Campbell knows that food-insecure children struggle in school. If they've gone an entire summer without proper daily nutrition, they fall behind in their ability to learn once school starts up again.

“To me, honestly, I think relieving hunger is as important as educating kids,” she said.

The summer lunch program began on the Lower Cape in 2013. Organizers say one in three children on Cape Cod is food-insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal is coming from. In 2014, the program served 20,000 meals (breakfasts, lunch and snacks) to local children, a number that increased to 31,000 last year. The program continues to expand, both in the number of sites and meals served and in the number of weeks the program operates each summer, Campbell said.

“It's just been amazing,” she said.

In addition to the feeding sites at the Chatham Community Center and at HJT's arts center, the program provides free lunches at the First Congregational Church of Chatham and the Monomoy Cooperative Learning Program and the Make Way for Kids programs in Harwich, and any children are welcome. Another feeding site at Monomoy Community Services in Chatham is for youngsters in MCS child care programs only, because of space constraints.

A new collaboration with MCS has led to something new in the summer feeding program this year: weekly dinners served for kids who attend Monomoy Movie Night at the community center.

“We'll be serving supper there from seven to eight o'clock every Monday,” she said. “We're always trying to do something new each year. We know there's a wonderful crowd of kids, and there are some low-income areas around that the kids can bike or walk over from,” Campbell said.

The summer Food 4 Kids program offers more than food. A partnership with the Eldredge Public Library has grown into a grant-supported program that now offers new children's books to kids in the program. Thanks to a grant from the United Way of Cape Cod, student performers from the Harwich Junior Theatre will put on skits for kids at six lunch sites over the summer. With opportunities like these, organizers hope to connect kids from needy families with enrichment activities, Campbell said.

The program has more than 170 volunteers, but needs additional help. To find out about ways to help, or to learn more about the feeding sites, call Campbell at 413-537-9200.