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Greensboro kids can get free lunch

For the fourth straight summer, the children of Greensboro won’t have to miss lunch just because they can’t go to the school cafeteria.

It’s thanks to the Summer Food Service Program, an offshoot of the same U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides free meals to children throughout the school year.

“The goal is to provide Greensboro’s needy children with one meal a day,” said Greensboro City Clerk Lorrie Cook, who helped the city fill out the 100-page application for participation in the program. “We feed any kids under 18 who need it. It relieves the pressure on parents who may not be able to afford to provide their kids with all three meals in a day.”

According to Johnny Cooper, a nutrition specialist with the state Department of Education and former coordinator of Alabama’s Summer Food Service Program, getting a square three meals is especially important to a child’s development during the carefree summer months.

“Because the kids are running around and spending the day playing outside, the requirements are accelerated,” he said. “To restrict them one meal a day is a substantial cut in the calories they need…anytime you’re feeding children you’re providing a great need for the community.”

According to Cook, the operation of the program is fairly simple: needy kids arrive, and they get fed.

“We designate churches or other sites as feeding facilities,” she says. “It’s an open program. All they have to do is show up and abide by the rules, meaning the food has to eaten on site.”

The Greensboro program was approved by a Greensboro City Council resolution at their meeting last Tuesday night and will start June 6, Cook said. It will then run through July 29, weekends and July 4 excluded.

Cooper confirmed that the program will also be administered by the County Commissions of Perry, Sumter, and Marengo. He added that he worried about the future of the program, however, which is administered at the local level through the state Department of Education, but gets every dollar of its budget from the USDA.

“We know that tremendous budget cuts are coming,” he said. “This program has been a major focus before, but some things are going to be cut. Everybody’s hoping to hold on to what they’ve got…during the first Bush administration we were wondering what the budget would focus on, and it focused on continued expansion. But I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I have no clue.”

For the children of the Black Belt, then, it may be a harsher summer than any of them can realize.