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Health Team

Groups help feed tri-state area children over the summer

Posted June 17

— Though many students look to summer break with excitement, it can be a source of anxiety for others.

Without the consistency of school breakfasts and lunches, some children do not have the same access to healthy food during the summer months, according to Tara Notz, principal for the Andrew (Iowa) Community School District.

"We know that offering them a variety of nutritious things is what's best for all of us," she told the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/2rvSEpz ). "During the school year, we're always able to offer that, but during the summer, that kind of goes away. ... Having that consistency in the summer is really good for them."

Enter a bevy of schools and community organizations, who collectively serve tens of thousands of meals to tri-state-area children over the summer.

Many organizations said they see an uptick in need for food during the summer, and they serve meals to combat that food insecurity.

"We feed kids every day, so it just makes natural sense to continue doing this during the summer," said Clif Cameron, director of food and nutrition services for the Western Dubuque Community School District.

On a recent afternoon at the Terrace Heights community center in northern Dubuque, 13 children enjoyed a lunch that included cheesy breadsticks, fruit slushies, curly fries and carrots. Staff from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dubuque and volunteers assisted the children as they received their meals.

"It was really good," said nine-year-old Caiden Cole.

This summer, the Boys and Girls Club expects to serve more than 30,000 free meals to children ages 6 to 18 at breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack sites around town.

The cost of the food is covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program, with additional help from United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States, according to Dan Reiter, program administrator for the Boys and Girls Club.

"The kids are assured of getting two good meals that are nutritionally complete each day at all the open sites," he said.

Several other organizations will serve meals this summer through the USDA program.

Among them is the Western Dubuque school district, which is sponsoring the program this year for the first time. Any child, regardless of income level, can receive free meals at James Kennedy Public Library in Dyersville.

Cameron said it is important to feed children whose families struggle to provide nutritious meals, but also to serve any child who wants a meal.

The Andrew Community School District also serves students meals through the federal program, as does Platteville (Wisconsin) Public Schools and other area school districts and organizations.

"If there's an opportunity for us to take care of students in the community that we serve, we want to utilize these options," said Kristoffer Brown, business administrator for Platteville Public Schools, who is helping coordinate the summer food effort.

Area food pantries also said they typically see an uptick in need during the summer.

"I think that's true with every pantry across the country," said Dave Lechnir, director of the Lions Club East Dubuque (Illinois) Community Food Pantry. "When kids are out, the pantry gets used more because the demand is bigger."

Gary Haas, who runs the Southwestern Food Pantry in Hazel Green, Wisconsin, said demand typically picks up in the summer and continues to rise through the end of the year.

"I try to make sure that they get plenty to get them through until the next time they can come," he said.

The Dubuque Food Pantry provides a lunches to-go program for area children and this year expanded the program to four days each week, up from two days per week last year. Participating children receive a bag to pick food from different bins to build their lunch for that day.

Just one week after starting the program for the summer, pantry workers had given lunch bags to more than 150 children, according to manager Theresa Caldwell.

"We want them to feel welcomed," she said. "We want them to feel unashamed to come in because every family, at one point or another, does need a hand up."

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