Rosalie Edwards, a field representative for Howard County schools’ food services department, said people at the system’s first-ever winter meals program last week thought it was “the best thing since sliced bread.”
That may be, but the food offerings for youngsters at the East Columbia branch library and the Florence Bain 50+ Center were certainly better than just sliced bread — in fact, the children could choose either a cheeseburger, hamburger or a slice of pizza, plus strawberries, carrots and plain or chocolate milk.
The meal program provided over the school system’s winter break was “a wonderful opportunity,” giving “children and families... somewhere to go for lunch,” said Chris Mancini, children instruction supervisor for the East Columbia library.
“Nutrition is a very important aspect of child development,” Mancini said.
School officials collaborated with the library system, the Community Action Council of Howard County and the county’s Department of Community Resources to provide the free meals last Thursday and Friday. The lunches were available for any child under age 18.
Nearly 150 lunches were served at the library branch; the number of meals served at the Bain center was not immediately available.
For years, the school system has provided free lunches during the summer, but this was the first time for a program over the winter break. This past summer the system served 66,276 meals, 16,000 more than the previous year.
The East Columbia library was thought to be good place to host the winter program. The branch served as a location for the summer program and averaged about 100 children each day that lunch was offered.
Dahlia Minor, a food service manager for the school system, previously served lunches during the summer session and was at the library last week as well. She said during the two days, she saw some of same children from the summer stop by and grab a meal.
Minor, who works at Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City, hopes the school system offers meals during spring break as well.
“There are families of need in Howard,” she said.
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Within Howard County schools’ population of 58,000 students, officials say 22.5 percent are enrolled in the system’s free and reduced meals program, for FARM. Families can apply to the FARM program at any time and, if eligible, will be enrolled immediately.
Dorcas Schindehette, a family service worker for the Community Action Council, helped serve meals Friday and also offered information to families about Head Start, a free full-day education program for 3-, 4- and 5-years-olds.
In addition to early learning help, children enrolled in Head Start get food for thought as well — breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack each day.
“There is a lot of need, food being one of them,” Schindehette said. “It’s great a thing for people to have access to.”
On Friday, children received a bag of snacks for the weekend at both the library and the Bain center, courtesy of the county’s Weekend Warrior Snack Pack program.
In addition, Wilde Lake High School students added a holiday treat: Candy bags for the children to take home.