More than 25,000 free meals have been distributed by the Monomoy Regional School District since classes shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Nauset district has also been distributing free meals daily for all school-aged kids in the community over the past several months.
Concerned about students continuing to receive the nutritional benefits the food provides after school ends next week, the Monomoy and Nauset districts are joining with Food 4 Kids, an outreach ministry of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans, to continue to provide free meals this summer.
The Grab And Go program will be available at eight locations from Harwich to Provincetown, including Monomoy Middle School in Chatham; Monomoy High School in Harwich; Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans; Stony Brook Elementary School in Brewster; Eastham Elementary School in Eastham; as well as locations in Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. The program will begin providing the meals for all children under age 18 on June 29.
For seven summers, the Food 4 Kids program has provided lunches in Chatham, Harwich, Brewster and Orleans — where half the students qualify for reduced or free school lunches — at locations where kids congregate, including summer recreation programs, camps, libraries and daycare facilities. The summer program represents a significant escalation in scale, however, and will allow it to reach many more children on the Lower and Outer Cape, according to organizers.
The program previously prepared and packed the meals at the Church of the Holy Spirit, but for this summer that work will be done at Nauset Middle School by school staff.
“We got together because we needed each other,” said Brenda Ridgeway, co-director, with Rev. Anne Koehler of the Church of the Holy Spirit, of the Food 4 Kids program. The church program was unable to rent freezers that it has used to keep food cold during the summer program, and the school districts wanted to continue the grab and go lunches but were having financial issues. With Nauset as the lead agency, receiving state reimbursement for the food costs through the state department of elementary and secondary education and the federal department of agriculture, the Food 4 Kids program and Monomoy will provide staff and volunteers to distribute the meals.
Monomoy distributed approximately 11,000 meals in April and 13,500 in May. Similar numbers are expected for June, according to district Community Engagement Coordinator Joy Jordan. Along with reimbursements through the state, the Monomoy meal program received a $10,000 grant from the EOS Foundation, and will likely break even, she said.
Combined, Nauset and Monomoy have been providing more than 1,000 meals a day, Ridgeway said, a number likely to be higher with the addition of Truro and Provincetown. The Food 4 Kids program, on its busiest day, served 600 to 620 meals. The expectation is that the summer program will continue at the 1,000 meals a day level. The program will be especially helpful to seasonal workers impact by job losses and the slowed economy.
“This is one less expense they're going to have,” said Ridgeway.
Along with the state reimbursement, the program will be funded through grants from local businesses and agencies that have supported the Food 4 Kids program in the past, such as the Cape Cod 5, United Way, Seaman's Bank, Vincent DePaul Society, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Federated Church of Orleans. Chatham, Orleans and Eastham also contribute through each town's human services budgets, Ridgeway said. Many local residents also donate.
“A lot of people are really sweet and send us nice checks,” she said. “We're hoping with the grants and all that we'll be able to at least break even.”
Whereas the Food 4 Kids program previously distributed lunches consisting of sandwiches meant to be eaten on site, the summer food program will provide a greater variety of offerings, Ridgeway said. Like the current grab and go meals, they will include a breakfast food as well as items that can be heated, since the meals will be taken home.
“Poverty and hunger are hidden realities on beautiful Cape Cod, but they are real here, and now more than ever,” Koeher said in a press release. “It’s been amazing to see every town step forward to meet the increased need this summer. There was no hesitation on the part of Nauset and Monomoy Schools to collaborate with us. And the recreation departments in Truro and Provincetown have joined in to extend our reach.”
A full list of meal distribution locations is available at www.food4kidscapecod.org. Information on volunteering for the program is also available on the website under the “Volunteer” tab.