Any person 18 or younger is eligible to receive a meal through the Summer Food Service Program in the 35 sites, while the private locations may have different criteria, she said. "As you know, when school ends it doesn’t mean learning ends,” she said, "and for children, just because school ends it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have access to a nutritious meal. "It can be scary for kids who may not know where they’re going to get their next meal. Through this program we target children who are in need of meals during the summer time.” Nearly 322,000 students, or 49.19 percent of the total public student population in Oklahoma, are eligible to receive free school meals, according to the state Education Department. More than 63,000 students, or nearly 9.69 percent of the total student population, are eligible to receive reduced price school meals. Such meals are sold to students for 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Oklahoma County’s student poverty rate has increased to 61.07 percent, up from 59.87 percent last year. Gibson said they provide a safe place and a positive environment for children during the day. And while the children are there, they teach life skills. "We know if we want to be successful in teaching our children something that’s going to be beneficial to them, they’ve got to be fed,” he said. "They’ve got to be physically fed before they can be emotionally fed or educationally fed, because hunger will prevent you from having the ability to just sit still and focus.” Shea Bainter has served as a chef at the Memorial Park Club for about four years. He talked about where the blue tile of the dining room ends and the tan tile of the kitchen begins. That’s where a little boy named Marquez waits each day after school to get Bainter’s attention. The boy knows children are not allowed in the kitchen without permission. So he waits on the blue tile. "I’ll say, ‘Come on in, Marquez,’ and he’ll come in and give me a hug,” Bainter said. "He’ll just let me know how his day was and ask how my day was. That sadness is always in his eyes, and you can tell he’s hungry. So I always make sure he goes back through the line and gets his food and eats it. More often than not, he will come back asking for seconds. "Seconds are always available.”
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To learn more about the Summer Food Service program for children, go to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma website at regionalfood bank.org.