The Groton Central School District Board of Education announced that the school district will be implementing a summer food program that will offer free breakfast and lunch meals to children five days a week at a meeting on June 3.
Individuals who are 18-years-old or younger can come to either the Junior/Senior High School, the Groton Library or the Groton Memorial Park to eat a free meal Monday through Friday between July 1 and August 9, although Superintendent Margo Martin said individuals will not be asked about their age.
“The eligibility requirements are that you present as under the age of 18,” Martin said at the meeting. “We do not ask for I.D.; we do not ask for residency.”
Martin made the clarification that anyone that is 18-years-old is eligible for the program, along with those under the age of 18.
Hot meals will be served at the high school, and cold meals will be served at the library and the park. Breakfast and lunch will be served at the high school, while only lunch will be served at the library and the park.
“What that means for the community is hopefully less hungry kids,” Kelley Neville, Food Service Director at the Groton Central School District, said. “I think it’s going to be a really great opportunity to help families with those hard times in the summer, that being food and security.”
Neville said this program is a major necessity for the community.
“Just from living here my whole life and just studies and things I see on a daily basis within each school, I think it’s going to be so beneficial and take the stress off parents for that extra money they might have to buy food for three meals a day for the kids … to help eliminate that stress in the summer and just that childhood hunger,” she said. “For kids, that should be the last thing that they’re worried about is where their next meal is going to come [from].”
She said a lack of access to quality food is more of an issue for families in the community than a lack of money to buy food.
“I think it’s not so much the money as much as the access, too,” she said. “There’s just not a grocery store here, so that makes it really difficult, too. … We have the dollar store, but they don’t have anything fresh. Everything is canned. There is a little bit of an option there, but not much.”
Breakfast will be served between 7:45 to 9:15 a.m. at the high school, which will include meals such as breakfast sandwiches, bagels, fruit and vegetables. Lunch at the high school will be from 11:15 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. and will feature food like barbecued chicken and some side dishes and cheeseburgers and french fries. Lunch at the library and the park will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Neville said she has not finalized a menu for lunch at the library and the park, but hopes to include a diverse spread of options.
“I’m hoping that we can get away from that mundane-like bag lunch where it's the same thing every time,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with those items, but maybe we can change it up and do cool stuff … and include some fresh local fruits and vegetables in those bags as well.”
Neville also host a program in each school called “Chef’s Corner,” where she picks a fresh fruit, vegetable or grain or a certain produce that kids would typically not try and cook it in a different way to get kids to try it, such as spaghetti squash, butternut squash bisque or caramelized pineapple. She said she plans on incorporating some of those healthy recipes from that program into this program.
“I’m hoping to do a little bit of that over the summer because the kids really love it and they look forward to it,” she said.