Although school is out for the summer, more than 100 children lined up at West Side School Tuesday to receive a free meal, as well as play games.
The Summer Cafe Lunch for Kids served 132 guests Tuesday — 37 more than last year’s average and double that of the previous year.
Deb Ricketts said the program has helped her significantly since her nephews’ parents work, giving them something to do in the summer.
The afternoon typically consists of a cold lunch and informational presentations from different organizations, including CEFS Head Start, USDA, and St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital.
Ricketts, who takes her nephews to the program every year, said they look forward to the presentations annually.
“We really like when Miss Liz comes,” she said. “She does recipes and food projects, and we get to sample whatever she makes.”
The cafe is a partnership of Effingham Unit 40 School District and Catholic Charities, as well as various other local organizations and businesses and is funded in part by the national Summer Food Service Program. Beginning in 1968, the nationwide program is hosted through the USDA and No Kid Hungry and administered through the Illinois Board of Education to provide kids with a guaranteed meal during the summer months.
Tim English, regional administrator of the USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, drove from his Chicago headquarters to celebrate the program’s local kickoff Tuesday. He said the agency is striving to create a seamless transition between children eating regular meals during the school year and the less regular summer months.
“Clearly the need for good nutrition doesn’t end when the school year ends,” English said. “When the last bell rings, it doesn’t mean kids no longer need access to healthy meals.”
Although the program does assist families who may not have access to regular meals, Coordinator Kathy Nava-Sifuentes said there are no income or residency restrictions to receive a meal.