City library to offer kids free lunch during summer as part of federal feeding program


By Sherese Gore, The News and Advance; Photo by Jill Nance

Staff members of the Lynchburg Public Library have seen the need firsthand.

At times when the library offers snacks, a child may request food to take home, or a mother will inform staff the child has not eaten that day.

When the library has given out coupons to restaurants such as McDonald’s, perhaps an hour later, a child will request one for a sibling.

“We see hungry kids. Sometimes they don’t have to ask me; I can tell,” said Beverly Blair, the library’s supervisor of youth services. “They can be really restless, agitated — they kind of look at you with blank eyes, and it gets worse as the summer goes along.”

To increase kids’ access to a healthy meal during the summer, the Lynchburg Public Library will offer free lunch to children through a new summer feeding program June 19 through July 28.

The lunch program will be administered at the main library on Memorial Avenue and will coincide with the library’s STEAM-focused summer reading program, named Reading by Design.

“We think we can offer this and encourage reading, too, which is our big thing,” said Marilyn Martin, director of the Lynchburg Public Library.

The library will be considered an open site, and any child may show up and receive a meal. Meals will be served Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The lunch program is made available through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals in low-income areas to children and teens younger than 18.

It will be the Lynchburg Public Library’s first year of participation.

The meals will be prepared at a Lynchburg city school and transported to the library for distribution.

The meals likely will be bagged lunches consisting of sandwiches, fruit and vegetables and milk, said Beth Morris, Lynchburg City Schools director of school nutrition.

“The goal is for them to be very well balanced, with fruit and vegetables, dairy and protein,” Blair said.

The library is seeking adult and teen volunteers to help with setup and cleanup and to interact with families during lunch time.

“We want it to be welcoming and judgment free and a way to connect with your community,” Blair said.

At this time, the library does not have an estimate as to the number of kids that it is likely to feed.

Not knowing what to expect this year, the library chose to start small but perhaps will expand the program next year to include meals Monday through Friday or a meal and a snack.

Lynchburg City Schools also will provide free meals to children at 21 feeding sites across the city this summer through the Summer Food Service Program. Among those sites are city schools, including summer school programs at Linkhorne Elementary School and E.C. Glass High School.

According to Morris, summer feeding sites last year included the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg and a YMCA summer camp, which will operate this year at Sheffield Elementary School.

This year, the schools will also provide meals at John H. Hughes Community Center on Hunt Street and the Birchwood Center on Birchwood Drive, which are operated by the Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority.

LRHA Property Manager Natalie Gaddis said the only criteria for a child to receive a meal is that he or she be between the ages of 6 and 18 years.

The school system also will provide free meals to summer camps at five neighborhood centers operated by Lynchburg Parks and Recreation including College Hill, Daniel’s Hill, Diamond Hill, Fairview and Yoder centers.

According to Parks and Recreation Director Jenny Jones, breakfast and lunch will be served at the neighborhood centers to increase kids’ access to healthy meals during the summer.

Charlotte Lester, coordinator of neighborhood centers, said the neighborhood centers are “open sites,” such that children who are not registered in a summer camp program may receive a meal on a first-come, first-served basis.

Parks and Recreation also will be offering meals during Hill City Hoops, a summer basketball league for teens. According to Lester, meals will be offered to teens and youth spectators on a first-come, first-served basis at Hill City Hoops games, twice per week at the Miller Center.

 “Once we’d gotten our feet wet last year, it was time to dive in,” Morris said.

Blair said she has been interested in the library participating in the summer food program for the past couple of years, and it was a fortunate occurrence Morris contacted the library to set up a meeting about the food program.

It was “perfect timing,” Blair said.

Morris said the school system is excited to provide a service to the community when students are not in school.

“The need is there, and that’s what we do: feed the children.”

For more information about the program, contact Blair at (434) 455-6313.  

To volunteer for the library program, call or email Amy Arranga at (434) 455-6306 or amy.arranga@lynchburgva.gov.

See full coverage here.