The child never looked up. His focus was on the tray of food before him.
There were other children all around, but he was driven by hunger, and little else mattered.
This went on for a few days at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County Memorial Park Club until A. Jaye Johnson, unit director at the club, walked over and quietly sat beside him. He’d noticed the hurried pace and had sensed there was more he should know.
The boy started by saying, "Mr. A. Jaye, we don’t have a lot of food at home.”
"Slow down, we have plenty,” Johnson said supportively. Then the child became really sad. He not only felt hunger, but he also felt guilt. He was getting to eat, but he had a little brother at home who wasn’t.
This man, who has the look of an offensive lineman but is very gentle in speech, crumbled. He told the child to come see him before leaving.
"I made sure he took a little to-go box home to his brother every day,” Johnson said. "After I started doing that, the little boy at home would draw pictures of airplanes and other things and send them with his brother to me. It was just his way of saying thank you. That hit me so hard.”
Hunger continues even when school lets out for summer break.
In the summer of 2009, The Boys & Girls Clubs’ Memorial Park Club, in cooperation with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, served 13,000 meals. That number will likely increase this summer.
Doug Gibson, the club’s executive director, said they plan to serve 500 children a day from the start of summer break to the end.
They will offer three meals, Monday through Friday, and any child of school age can take a seat at the table.
He said there are 14,000 school children within a two-mile radius of their building in Oklahoma City, and added that more than 91 percent of the children who find their way to the club’s door are considered poor.
"Every day we look into the face of a hungry child,” Gibson said. "It’s kind of a helpless look, sometimes frightened, but it’s usually sad. It’s not the face of a happy child, a fulfilled child.”
Several public and private groups in Oklahoma have recognized that many children need somewhere to get meals after the school year.
For example, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma sponsors 35 meal sites in central and western Oklahoma and also assists nine meal sites that operate through private funding, said Food Bank spokeswoman Ellen Pogemiller.