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Kids eat free thanks to summer meal program

Annie Davenport, of Westminster, is 5 and in a summer kindergarten readiness program at Robert Moton Elementary School, where she will attend kindergarten in

Annie Davenport, of Westminster, is 5 and in a summer kindergarten readiness program at Robert Moton Elementary School, where she will attend kindergarten in the fall. On Tuesday, she even got to sit in the cafeteria and eat a lunch — featuring chicken tenders — just like she will once school starts.

"It was good," she said. Her favorite part? "That it was chicken."

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That chicken lunch is something that would not necessarily have been available before three years ago. That's because it was three years ago that Carroll County Public Schools began offering free meals for children through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program, according to Karen Sarno, supervisor of food services for the school system. Anyone 18 or younger can come to a participating location, such as Robert Moton, and a get a free meal, breakfast or lunch, depending on the site.

"We know our kids are getting a lot of meals during the school year, and summer comes and we don't have a breakfast and lunch program," Sarno said. "Each year we have been trying to expand it a little bit and make it accessible."

This year, three sites are offering the meals: Robert Moton in Westminster is offering breakfast and lunch June 19 through July 20, Taneytown Elementary School is offering just lunch July 17 through Aug. 10, and East Middle School in Westminster is offering breakfast and lunch July 10 through 28.

Site sponsors — which can be nonprofits; churches; or, in this case, a school system — provide meals according to certain specifications and are then reimbursed with federal funds, Sarno said.

Site eligibility is determined by proximity to low-income families, determined either by U.S. Census data or the number of students at a school receiving free lunches, according to Sarno.

"For instance, here in Taneytown we have over 50 percent of the children eligible for free and reduced meals," she said, noting that 50 percent is the threshold the USDA, which funds the program, is looking for. Once a site has been established based on those criteria, Sarno said, any child can come in to eat, not just students of that school or students on the free and reduced lunch program.

At Robert Moton, there haven't been many children from the broader community coming to lunch or breakfast, but there have been a lot of students in various summer programs at the school who have been eating, according to Stacie Klavon, a food services worker at Robert Moton.

"I have been doing about 80 breakfasts and 80 lunches a day, on average," she said. "Breakfast today was cinnamon rolls or apple rolls, applesauce and milk. It varies every day."

Soon-to-be-kindergarteners such as Annie were happily dining on those offerings Tuesday, but they certainly weren't the only ones, according to Robert Moton Principal Darryl Robbins.

"This year, because of the different summer programs we have going on, there are some middle school to high school volunteers that are coming in, and an added benefit is they actually get fed during the day," he said.

That was a pleasant perk for 14-year-old Gavin Rhoads, who helped Klavon serve food to the younger children on Tuesday.

"I was very surprised that because I was just under 18, I could just get food here," he said. "I thought it was really cool."

But Robert Moton and the other sites have the capacity to feed many more children, Sarno said.

Carroll County Public Schools Summer Food Service sites served 2,164 breakfasts and 2,770 lunches in 2015, and 2,034 breakfasts and 2,819 lunches in 2016. She hopes getting the word out will lead to more children coming in for a good meal in 2017.

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"The more numbers we can get up, the better we can run it: the more variety we can offer in food and selection and the more days we can stay open for the public." Sarno said.

410-857-3317

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