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County schools, libraries offer free meals this summer

County schools, libraries offer free meals this summer
The Baltimore County library and school systems are partnering to provide free meals during the summer to children living in communities where the schools have a high percentage of low-income families. (BSMG file)

Baltimore County Public Schools and the Baltimore County Public Library are partnering to provide free meals for anyone 18 years or younger at 10 library branches and 27 schools through the Summer Food Service Program.

“I just think it’s one of the best things that we do,” said Marisa Conner, youth and family engagement manager for the library system.

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From June 20 to Aug. 24, 10 libraries will serve a free lunch each weekday, excluding June 24 and July 4, when the libraries will be closed. The schools will provide free breakfast and free lunch on weekdays from July 9 to Aug. 3.

Lunches at the library branches will be served at noon, 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m., depending on the branch. Schools will serve breakfast at 8:30 a.m. or 9:15 a.m., and lunches at noon or 12:45 p.m., again with the time depending on location. The only exception is Holabird Middle School, in Dundalk, which will serve breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and lunch at 11:15 a.m.

A full list of library branches and schools offering free meals, and the time of when those meals will be served, can be found online at http://www.bcps.org/news/articles/article9981.html.

Individuals do not pay for the meals, and money for the food does not come out of the school system’s budget. The free meals program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Maryland State Department of Education, according to Karen Levenstein, director of food and nutrition services at BCPS.

“It’s such a gift to be able to do this,” Conner said. “Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry.”

The branches and schools are chosen to be near Title I communities, where schools have a high percentage of low-income families.

In total, about 44 percent of Baltimore County Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, according to the latest data from the school system, collected as of October 2017.

The school system provided 258,456 meals last summer, according to Levenstein. About 137,000 were lunches and about 121,000 were breakfasts.

Libraries in the southwest area that will provide free lunches are the Arbutus, Lansdowne, and Woodlawn branches.

Area schools that will provide free breakfast and lunch include Chadwick Elementary, Featherbed Lane Elementary and Halethorpe Elementary.

Breakfasts consist of a cereal bar, breakfast bar or a muffin, fruit or juice, and milk. Lunches consist of a deli sandwich, a fruit or vegetable, juice or a frozen treat, and milk.

Individuals do not have to provide identifying information to prove residence or age, but Conner said meals are supposed to be eaten on-site.

To help combat summer “brain drain,” in addition to providing meals, the libraries will offer educational programming after lunches are served. The library triples its regular programming during the summer compared with the rest of the year, Conner said.

Cindy Swanson, manager of the Lansdowne branch, said programming is based on the day of the week. Monday through Thursday, the programming could be a movie, a craft or a game day.

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On Fridays during the summer, the Lansdowne branch brings in counselors from Lighthouse Inc., a Catonsville-based counseling practice, to “chat about” family or kids’ issues with which children or families may be grappling. hrough.

Swanson said the free lunches and programs bring in a “mixture” of people, only some of whom are library regulars.

“[We] get new families each year, sometimes there will be groups of kids from the neighborhood that will come for certain activities,” Swanson said. “And some kids come every day.”

The Lansdowne branch typically sees between 15 and 30 children for the meals. She said she’s already heard from some regular library patrons excited for the start of summer programming

“We do have some regulars, some families that connect from year to year,” she said. “We really try to get the word out to the schools and community that this is happening during the summer.”

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