The child with glasses took the brown bag lunch in hand and began twisting the top to make a handle of sorts.
Led and followed by staff members of the North Side YMCA, he and about 60 other children walked to a nearby park around noon on a sunny, mild October day.
The boy in the bright red shirt sat down on a bench under a big tree. He untwisted the top of the sack, reached in and pulled out his sandwich.
On this day he was among the 14 children receiving a brown bag lunch provided by the Regional Food of Oklahoma during the first of two weeks of fall break for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Through the program, 14 sites provide lunches to anyone age 18 or younger weekdays through next Friday.
Students already enrolled in the Food for Kids Backpack Program were to receive an extra sack of food on the last day before the fall break, according to the Regional Food Bank. Through the backpack program, children receive a backpack of child-friendly, nonperishable and nutritious food each Friday.
This is the first year for fall break sites, said Angie Gaines, spokeswoman for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. It will be the second year for spring break and Christmas break sites.
These sites are a response to the Oklahoma City Public Schools' expanded school calendar with longer fall and spring breaks and an abbreviated summer break. Overall, the district is in its second year of this schedule, which includes a two-week fall break.
Since about 90 percent of Oklahoma City Public Schools students receive free or reduced-price lunches, that means they are most likely missing out on those meals when school is not in session, Gaines said.
“So we created a way to fill in that gap and provide that nutrition for hungry children,” she said.
Response is good
The Regional Food Bank asked the North Side YMCA, 10000 N Pennsylvania, to begin participating in the program last spring. The response was good. So they tried it in the summer and provided meals to 50 to 60 children each day during the week.
For families on the tightest budgets, it provides a way to feed their children while school is not in session. For others, the situation also is tight. Regardless, the children are getting good food, said Katie Baker, the North Side YMCA site coordinator for youth and families.
“It gives me a good feeling to know that they are eating a nutritious meal, that they're not going home hungry, they've gotten something to eat in their system that day,” Baker said. “Because when they go home for dinner they might not get something to eat that day.”
Inside the sacks are sandwiches, raisins, milk, and a fruit cup or applesauce, depending on the meal a child receives. Also, 13 of the fall meal sites offer an afternoon snack such as pretzels or animal crackers and juice.
“One in four children in Oklahoma will struggle with hunger today,” said Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank. “So many things that people living in poverty have to think about are things that others take for granted. Like having something to eat during fall break.
“A child should never have to worry about whether they will have anything to eat.”
LaTonya Porter's daughter attends programs at the North Side YMCA during some breaks, including last summer. While the meals aren't an issue for her family, she said her daughter told her it was for other children. That's why Porter was excited to hear they would be offering meals.
She said she would have been glad to send extra with her daughter for other children. But Porter is happy the program is providing the well-balanced lunch and healthy snacks for all the children at the North Side YMCA.
“I don't want to see kids go hungry,” she said. “When I heard about this, I thought, ‘Thank God these children will be able to eat.'”
Fuel for busy day
The meal and snack times are part of a busy day. During fall break, children can come to the North Side YMCA from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Activities include playing games inside or outside and field trips Arts and crafts are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Jonathan Teal, the North Side YMCA executive director, said they never hesitated to be a part of the meal program for children during the Oklahoma City School District's fall break. That's in part because of the great response in the summer not only from people in the community but also a few families within the YMCA's programming.
“There are parents who are on scholarships and financial assistance to come to the Y,” Teal said. “And it really helped out some of those families because you know it's the same thing for those families. If school's out, well now they've got to come up with snacks and a lunch to send with their children to come to the Y. This program during those times helps out even families within the Y that really can't afford the extra expense.
“I think there is a need, and I think the programs at breaks will continue to grow.”
TO LEARN MORE
14 sites offer lunches
The sites are open to anyone age 18 or younger weekdays through Oct. 26, according to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.