In an effort to curb child hunger, for the first time, Howard schools are offering free lunches during two days of winter break.
Howard established the winter meals program “because hunger doesn’t end when school ends,” said Brian Bassett, a county schools spokesman.
“The more days we can offer that [free meals] when school isn’t in session the better,” Bassett said.
Lunches will be available for all children under the age of 18 on Dec. 27 and Dec. 28. Children can go to either the Florence Bain Center and the East Columbia Library Branch, both in Columbia, to receive a meal.
The meals will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on both days.
Before being distributed to the two locations, the lunches will be prepared at Oakland Mills High School, Bassett said.
The school system is collaborating with the county’s Department of Community Resources, the Howard County Library System and the Community Action Council of Howard County to provide the free meals.
During its summer weekday meals program, the school system served a total of 66,276 meals, 16,000 mores than last year.
The East Columbia library served as a mobile site during the summer as well, the first mobile site the school system has ever had. There were also four school locations during the summer.
Of the school systems 58,000 student population, 22.5 percent of students are enrolled in in the school system’s free and reduced meals program known as FARMs, according to Bassett.
The school system has trained all county principals on the importance of the FARMs program and principals are now relaying the same information to their school staff.
Howard families can apply at any point to the FARMs program and if eligible, will be enrolled in the program immediately.
Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a statement it was imperative to have a winter break meals program.
"Hunger doesn’t take a vacation, so it was imperative that we replicate our summer meals program to serve our children during their winter break,” Martirano said in a statement.
All Howard schools are closed for winter break from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. Schools reopen Jan. 2.