Through the month of June, the Great Plains Food Bank Youth Summer Meals Program served 629 free meals to children in the city of Jamestown. Now in its fifth week, the program offers meals five days a week at four locations into August.
The program expanded to nine locations this year across the state, up from four last year, according to Great Plains Food Bank, which says childhood hunger is a year-round problem that worsens in the summer months when children are without a consistent school lunch.
Jenae Meske, GPFB’s child and senior program manager who keeps track of the meals being disbursed, said the program’s success has been more than she expected.
“It’s going well. Specifically in Jamestown,” Meske said. “I didn’t have a lot of expectations, but we did more than what I anticipated.”
Amy Walters, facility manager at Two Rivers Activity Center, was pleasantly surprised with the first month.
“We were hopeful people would take advantage of the opportunities in this community, and they did,” she said. “We’re still just trying to figure it all out since it’s the first year.”
There are up to 10 different meals being served, including pizza, barbecue chicken salad and various sandwiches, accompanied by healthy options, such as fruit. Meske expects the program’s success to continue through the summer, despite transportation being an issue with some.
“I’m excited. We’re hoping to get more kids ... we have four locations to make it easier for them to come. Jamestown is a great community,” Meske said. “It’s great seeing them come together and step up to help.”
The Jamestown Arts Center, which is handling distribution of meals at the Hansen Arts Park, is being assisted by four local businesses volunteering to distribute the meals, including Unison Bank, North Dakota Farmers Union, First Community Credit Union and The Jamestown Sun. Martini said there was an "incredible need" for the youth summer meals program in Jamestown.
"There are undernourished children and children of low-income families in this community that get discounts on school lunches," Martini said. "When school's out, those children still need to eat."
For the month of June, of the 629 lunches served, 78 were served at TRAC, 166 at Hansen Arts Park, 171 at Nickeus Park and 214 at Leapaldt Park. As for next year, Meske said the return of the Youth Summer Meals Program is "completely up to those hosting it."
TRAC serves the lunches from 11:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday until the first day of school. Leapaldt Park and Nickeus Park serve through the same time Monday through Friday until Aug. 2, and Hansen Arts Park serves between noon to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, ending Aug. 1.
To fill the gap between the beginning of August and the start of the school year, the Stutsman County Extension Office will open its doors to serve meals from July 29- Aug. 21. If the program is successful there, Meske said the service would be available all next summer.