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Md. Food Bank summer program fills kids' stomachs in Arundel

The Baltimore Sun
Maryland Food Bank bringing nutritious meals to Arundel kids for summer.

When children spend their summer days at the Stanton Community Center in Annapolis, they know their stomachs won't be growling when they are swimming, boating or on field trips.

The camp is one of 75 sites in the state that serve meals to children in the summer, when those in need cannot rely on the free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches they receive during the school year.

In Anne Arundel County, more than 20,000 children experience "food insecurity," meaning limited or uncertain access to nutritious food, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit food bank network.

The meals are provided by the Maryland Food Bank's Summer Club Program, which served more than 150,000 meals at 71 locations last summer.

The program aims to serve about 180,000 healthy meals to children at community centers across the state this summer.

Joanna Warner, director of communications for the Maryland Food Bank, said the program fills a void.

"It's a way to get nutritious, fresh food into the hands of those who need it most," she said. "And during the summer, that's kids."

Meals are based on nutritional guidelines developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Breakfast should include one grain, one fruit or vegetable, and milk; lunch should be made up of a protein, a grain, two fruits or vegetables and milk.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., about 50 students ages 6 to 12 rely on the two provided meals to keep up energy, according to Archie Trader, manager of the Stanton Community Center.

"They burn a lot of calories," he said. "They are very active and have to be refueled constantly."

Trader said nearly all of the children in the neighborhood receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. He said financial limitations and access to grocery stores affect the quality of the food his campers eat.

"This is probably the most holistic food they'll get throughout the day," Trader said.

The food bank is operating 11 sites in Anne Arundel this summer, some providing breakfast and lunch.

On July 15, Stanton kids were served turkey sandwiches, cucumbers, oranges, and milk — a change of pace from food such as pizza and macaroni and cheese the children said they eat at home.

"We do eat healthier here than when we're home," said Cesar Andres, 12. "But some people don't want to eat it because it's too healthy."

Kymora McGowans, 12, likes home cooking a bit more. "I appreciate it being free, but they need some real chefs like my mama," she said.

Warner said the program helps families that may be struggling.

"When people think of those who are food insecure, or hungry, what typically comes to mind is the homeless. But really, in Maryland, what we're seeing more and more is the underemployed — people who are actually working but may not be working as much as they want to," she said.

According to Warner, the program benefits children and parents, allowing families to "use their limited resources on other things, whether it's paying bills or rent."

Trader said the program takes a weight off the shoulders of camp leaders.

"The food bank really augments our program," he said. "We don't have to worry about these children being hungry."

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