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There’s free lunch for kids who need it

By Chris Nichols Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday June 11, 2002

For many local children, the start of summer is a time to relax and be carefree. However, for many other local kids the start of summer means an end to free meal programs at local schools.  

For the past 25 summers Berkeley has fed local children in need through its Summer Food Service. According to Madalyn Law, recreation program administrator for the service, the summer months mean a shortage of food for many local children. 

The Service, originated by the federal government, is coordinated through the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. Trained staff provides lunch for children at 12 locations throughout Berkeley every day. 

“They came to the realization that once schools shut down for the summer there was still a need for food. Kids still need nourishment during the summer,” Law said. 

There is no application process for the kids or their parents. Children simply show up to a site and are given a free meal.  

The only requirement, says Law, is that the children stay on-site while eating.  

Berkeley’s Black Repertory Theatre, a program participant, provides youth from low-income families a chance to eat a free meal, and to check out a play.  

“There are two things you need to do,” said Vaughn Scott, executive director of the theater. “Feed them and expose them to the arts.” 

About 75 kids show up at the Theater each day for lunch during the summer. “This gives them a meal and a chance to find out if they like the arts. A lot of times there’s no where else to go for them,” Vaughn Scott said. 

The Theater’s performance is “The Whiz,” July 8 until Aug. 24. 

Though the program serves an important need, the government-issued lunches have been criticized. Some say the lunch contents could be more nutritious. Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean says the program ought to promote healthy eating habits, not just provide food.  

“I’m going to purchase one of these meals myself,” Dean said. “I want to experience it because I have the feeling it’s not very nutritious. We need to begin to change the focus and see if we can provide things like fresh fruits and vegetables with these meals.”  

Despite these concerns, the service hands out more than 1,300 lunches each day throughout the summer, said Lisa Corona, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. 

Locations such as the Youth Services Center on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, are chosen because they are near schools with more than 50 percent of students receiving free meal programs during the schoolyear. 

Law says that each site serves 100 to 150 lunches a day, and that no child younger than 19 is turned away. 

During the schoolyear, the Berkeley Unified School District provides both free breakfasts and free or reduced-price lunches to all income-eligible students. 

According to Lawrence Lee, executive vice principal at Berkeley High School, BHS provides applications for the program at its cafeteria.  

BHS, however, does not provide a meal program during the summer, even though many students attend summer classes. Lee is hoping the district will soon consider adding a summer program. 

According to Marian Magid, spokesperson for the Berkeley Unified School District, the city applied for a grant for school meal programs that “would be a major infusion of funds and programs related to school meals.”  

Many other local food programs offer children and adults free meals throughout the year. According to Steve Simms, chairman of the Outreach Committee at All Souls Episcopal Church, volunteers try to make those in need feel at home.  

“We think of people as our guests. Our objective is to make them feel at home, to play the piano and have buffet style meals,” Simms said. 

The food program at All Souls rotates its service with other churches and serves more than 100 people at each meal. 

“The volunteers really like to create a friendly and hospitable atmosphere. We have a lot of regulars,” said Simms. 

Other local food programs include the Berkeley Food Pantry, 2220 Cedar St., which distributes groceries to residents, and the Berkeley Emergency Food and Housing Project, 2362 Bancroft Way. 


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