Cool air flows from six vents as the little boy sinks his teeth into a peach. The juice drips onto his peach fuzz-covered face.
The little girl with flowers on her shirt and hair in braids nibbles at one end of a sub sandwich.
And Valerie Sherrer, founder of Novo Ministries, watches and smiles, her heart warmer than the triple-digit temperatures the children have escaped on a recent day by gathering in the Ambassador Courts Community Center, 800 SE 15.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma works with several partners in Oklahoma City to provide public summer feeding sites for children.
Those partners include Novo Ministries, whose staff oversees the program for children under age 18 at two locations, and assists at a third community center.
While any child can come for the meals, those attending are often from low-income families.
And while the main issue is often hunger, the heat wave has added to the importance of the sites.
On Thursday, Oklahoma City reached triple digits for the 29th time this year, continuing to close in on the record of 50 days at 100 degrees or higher in 1980.
Children can come for the meal and either leave right after or stay for a program provided by employees of Novo Ministries.
An added blessing
“I definitely think the heat has made the summer feeding program even more important,” Sherrer said. “That's simply because although some people have access to air conditioning, others don't have access to air conditioning or even fans.”
In 2004, Sherrer asked to start faith-based, after-school and summer programs at some of the Oklahoma City Housing Authority's community centers. Novo Ministries has facilitated weekly Novo Bible Club programs at 17 sites throughout the metro. Last year, the nonprofit also became involved in the summer feeding program at Oak Grove Housing Development.
This year, Oak Grove is feeding about 30 to 35 children per day, while another 30 to 45 come to the Ambassador Courts.
At 2:45 on a recent afternoon, Elizabeth Rauch, the Ambassador Courts site coordinator, looks at 31 children — ranging in age from 3 to 17 years — and tells them it's time for the afternoon meal. The littlest ones yell with excitement and form a line to pick up their brown paper bag and a small, cold carton of milk.
Gathering around six tables, they pull sandwiches, tomatoes and either peaches, apples or oranges from the sacks.
Assistance is needed
Among the children are those of Apollonia Murillo, who lives at Ambassador Courts and works for Novo Ministries. She helps with the meals and snacks in the summer feeding and tutors during the school year. Right now her husband is out of work in the construction business and searching for employment.
She is extremely thankful for the summer meals provided by the Regional Food Bank.
“I'm on a budget and a lot of families in this neighborhood are on a budget,” she said. “We're used to sending our kids to school, and they eat two meals at school. When they're out for the summer, sometimes our food budget really doesn't stretch enough for those extra meals.
“So it helps out a lot.”
Since June 13, the official high temperature for Oklahoma City has been lower than 95 degrees only twice, according to the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office.
While it's tough to keep a child inside during summer vacation, the heat is dangerous. That's another aspect Murillo appreciates about the program.
“Right now I don't even let my kids go outside,” she said. “When they come here, they're with all their friends who come here and they get to play.
“I am very thankful for the center.”