School is out but breakfast, lunch still on
School may be out for the summer but Swain’s middle and elementary school cafeterias are still cooking up meals that are reaching the mouths of children across the county, thanks to the participation of over 20 meal sites.
The Smoky Mountain Times met with Swain County Schools Nutrition Director Jennifer Brown and Swain Middle School Cafeteria Manager Janet Bryant at the middle school site Monday to talk about the Summer Food Service Program.
This summer, breakfast and lunch are being served Monday through Friday on-site at the middle school and elementary schools through Aug. 9. Breakfast is served from 7:30-9:30 a.m. and lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at each of the three sites. Kids 18 and under eat free, and do not have to be Swain County residents or meet any income qualifications to come enjoy a free meal. Adults are charged $2.50 for breakfast and $4 for lunch.
According to Bryant, the high school is usually a meal site as well, but is not this year due to construction that is taking place on campus.
Brown pointed out that for those families who live on the outskirts of the community or have a lack of transportation, getting to one of the school sites for meals might not be feasible. That’s where local churches and other community partners are a major help, said Brown.
Some churches participate by picking up meals to serve kids who attend their Wednesday night programs or Vacation Bible Schools. Rely on Christ Church picks up meals from the middle school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to serve to children in the community, even going into neighborhoods to deliver meals to children who may need them. Bryant said Rely on Christ is currently serving 80 meals per day, and had gotten up to 140 last summer.
The middle school also supplies meals to Grace Christian Academy, Little Hands Playskool, Lots-A-Tots Daycare and various camps taking place in the county. Congregations for Children is a new site this year, and provides meals to its literacy camp attendees through the Swain County Schools (SCS) summer food program.
Bryant did the math and concluded that the middle school cafeteria serves about 240 breakfasts each day, and 300 lunches.
Brown said that those East serves include all the summer camps in Cherokee, and that West packs meals for a few church sites. On average, breakfast and lunch combined, said Brown, East serves about 600 meals each day and West 200.
The Summer Food Service Program is sponsored by SCS and is funded by the USDA through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Brown noted that Swain County is the top county in the state for meeting summer meal needs, when comparing the number of meals served to the number of students in the county who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
She said the program is still only meeting about 21 percent of the need, though the county in the number two spot is only meeting 11 or 12 percent.
Brown said 60 percent of SCS students qualify for free and reduced price meals. A family of four, for example, would qualify with a yearly family income of $44,000 or less.
“We all know how much groceries are, and how expensive it is to feed a family healthy food,” she said.
The meals served by the summer program, said Brown, include a good quality protein, fruit, a vegetable, milk, and usually a whole grain.
At the middle school Monday, lunch consisted of barbeque, French fries, coleslaw, mandarin oranges and milk. Cheeseburgers were also served as another choice.
Brown said that there have been numerous studies showing that students lose some of the skills they’ve learned in school over the summer months, a phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” Part of that, said Brown, can be attributed to lack of adequate nutrition. Therefore, the summer program is not only helping children and their families, but is helping the school system by allowing students to come back to school more prepared, she concluded.
Brown mentioned that she will be attending a School Nutrition Association meeting this week in Greensboro to present on SCS’ summer meal program to other sponsors across the state.
The SCS program has expanded greatly since Brown started with the school system during the 2012-13 school year. In 2013, the summer meals were only being served at the middle school cafeteria on-site, with no outside sites, she said. The next year the program expanded and has been slowly growing each year since.
The program’s growth has also meant more employment opportunities for SCS food and nutrition staff. During the regular school year, said Brown, SCS has around 25 food and nutrition employees. Where it was once only able to employ a couple of them over the summer through the program, it is now able to employ about 15.
Brown said she sees room for the program’s continued expansion, as it picks up new sites each year through word of mouth. One church, she said, may hear how well the program went for another church and want to participate the next year.
The public is encouraged to come eat at one of the three school sites, said Brown, and churches or other organizations that have an organized activity or a group of children to serve are encouraged to reach out to her to see if the program can provide meals for them.
Brown can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling Swain County Schools at 828-488-3129.