Free meals program for Buncombe kids starts Monday

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When most of us think of the summer, we think of kids at the pool, playing outdoors and enjoying meals with family in between activities.

But for a surprising number of children in this community, the end of school – where breakfast and lunch is served in the cafeteria – means chronic hunger.

Buncombe County Child Nutrition Supervisor Lynn Ferguson shows what the free lunches will look like after assembly at one of several Buncombe County Schools kitchen sites. A program offering free breakfasts and lunches to any Buncombe County child or teen ages 18 and under will start Monday. Susan Andrew/Carolina Public Press

This year, Buncombe County Schools officials say, at least part of the solution is “in the bag.” The brown bag, that is.

From June 11 through Aug. 3, Buncombe County Schools’ new “Super Summer Meals” program will provide meals for a projected 1,500 to 2,000 Buncombe County children and teens ages 18 and younger. Meals will be available at nearly two dozen sites across the county, as part of a pilot program in ten counties across the state designed to counter child poverty and keep kids eating healthy foods through the summer months.

The program is a collaboration among Buncombe County Schools Child Nutrition Services, Buncombe County Parks and Recreation, the YMCA of Western North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and No Kid Hungry North Carolina. Read more about the program, from Carolina Public Press, here.

And thanks to support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no income requirement or registration required; children can simply show up, and eat free.

“This program allows us to give each student in our system a better opportunity for success,” said Superintendent Tony Baldwin during opening remarks at the program launch Tuesday, June 5, at a hilltop event adjacent to the pool at Erwin High School. “One out of four children in North Carolina is now at risk of hunger, and that greatly impacts their education… We’ve got to reverse that.”

A  bag lunch – featuring a meat-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, sliced apples from Henderson County, baby carrots, “goldfish-style” crackers and milk – was served at the event. The meal is a sample of what kids can expect to eat at lunchtime during the summer program.

It’s clear the need for such efforts is growing locally, officials said. Over 55 percent of Buncombe County students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school, based on family income criteria – a 21 percent increase compared to 12 years ago, according to figures tallied by Buncombe County Schools.

What’s more, in many cases the need is increasing, even though working parents are trying to provide for their children.

“One of every four children living in poverty has a parent that is working (full time),” said Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones during her remarks at Tuesday’s program launch.

Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones makes her remarks at the Super Summer Meals Program presentation at Erwin High School on Tuesday, June 5, as County Commission Chair David Gantt (left) and Buncombe County School Board Chair Bob Rhinehart look on. Susan Andrew/Carolina Public Press

Without assistance, she said, such families can continue to slip further behind, putting their children increasingly at risk of failure in school and beyond.

“But our community has the will, ingenuity and resources to protect our children, and help them grow into successful adults, even when times are hard,” Jones said. “We all are responsible for ensuring that our children have a great start.”

Lynette Vaughn-Hensley, director of Buncombe County Schools Child Nutrition Services, fought back tears as she spoke about the program’s launch.

“Since I came here, in 2007, I’ve always wanted to see this day,” she said. “So, I’m emotional over it. This is a dream come true.”

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, there is a link between poverty and the obesity that’s evident in our community, officials said.

That’s partly because healthier, low-calorie foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are less available to low-income children, for a variety of reasons, compared to the packaged snacks and prepared foods that deliver more calories.

“Summer-meal programs can be an important source of nutrition during the summer months, especially in families where there’s not as much structure,” said Buncombe County Commission Chairman David Gantt, adding that today’s kids are “the first in our history that are going to have a lower standard of living – and they won’t live as long as their parents do – because of obesity.

“Anything we can do to fight childhood obesity now, we’re doing future generations a big favor.”


Program locations and information

Text FOODNC to 877877 and enter your zip code to get a list of free summer lunch locations within a 10-mile radius. Also, see the list below or go to the Buncombe County Schools website for more information.

Residents can also look for program banners at participating sites, including Buncombe County pools and YMCA sites.

The locations, which are listed below, are “Open” (refers to sites where any child can receive a meal) or “Closed”(only registered participants in programs such as the YMCA summer camps can receive meals). Also, some school sites are closed on Fridays if the school is closed and no other programs operate on the site those days.

Enka District

Hominy Valley Elementary

Open Site: Mon-Fri

Breakfast 9 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 12:45 – 1:15 p.m.

YMCA Hominy Valley Elementary

Closed Site: Mon-Fri

YMCA Breakfast 8 – 9 a.m.; YMCA Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Hominy Valley Pool

Open Site: Mon-Fri

Lunch 11:15 – 11:45 a.m.

Pole Creek Baptist Church, Candler

Open Site: Mon-Fri

Breakfast 8 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 11:45 a.m. -12:45 p.m.

North Buncombe District

YMCA at Beaverdam

Closed Site: Mon-Fri

YMCA Breakfast 8 – 9 a.m.; YMCA Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

North Buncombe Pool

Open Site: Mon-Fri

Lunch 11:15 – 11:45 a.m.

Big Ivy Community Center, Barnardsville

Open Site: Mon-Fri

Lunch 12 – 1 p.m.

Reynolds District

Charles C. Bell Elementary

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Breakfast 9 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.

YMCA Charles C. Bell Elementary

Closed Site: Monday – Friday

YMCA Breakfast 8 – 9 a.m.; YMCA Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Oakley Elementary

Open Site: Mon-Thu

Breakfast 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 12 – 1 p.m.

Ledgewood Apartments, 75 Future St., Asheville

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Breakfast 8:45 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.

Roberson District

YMCA at Estes Elementary

CLOSED Site: Monday – Friday

YMCA Breakfast 8 – 9 a.m.; YMCA Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Erwin District

Erwin Pool

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Lunch 11:15 – 11:45 a.m.

Emma Elementary

Open Site: Monday – Thursday

Lunch 12 -1 p.m.

Deaverview Apartments

Open Site: Monday – Thursday

Lunch 12:15 – 1:15 p.m.

Johnston Elementary

Open Site: Monday – Thursday

Breakfast 9 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Leicester Elementary

Open Site: Monday – Thursday

July 3-26: Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Woodfin Elementary

Open Site: Monday – Thursday

Breakfast 8:30-9:30 a.m.; Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Owen District

Black Mountain Primary

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Breakfast 9 – 9:30 a.m.; Lunch 12:45 – 1:15 p.m.

YMCA at Black Mountain

Closed Site: Monday – Friday

YMCA Breakfast 8 – 9 a.m.; YMCA Lunch 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Owen Pool

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Lunch 11:15 – 11:45 a.m.

First Presbyterian Church, Swannanoa

Open Site: Monday – Friday

Lunch 12 – 1 p.m.

 

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About the Author

Susan Andrew

Susan Andrew is contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact her at waterthrush@bellsouth.net.

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