Lunch program bridges gap when school is out Meal served on weekdays to children

July 20, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Jameelah Johnson looks forward to lunch every day. The 10-year-old, who lives in Columbia's Rideout Heath townhouse community, knows she'll see her friends -- and the milk will be chocolate.

"It's fun," said Jameelah. "I like the chicken and orange juice and watermelon and the milk."

Jameelah, along with other Columbia children who live in some of the city's low- and moderate-income housing communities, are getting free, nutritious lunches this summer through the Summer Food Service Program.

The federal program is intended to replace school lunches for needy children during the summer vacation.

The lunches are provided via the Columbia Housing Corp., a private, nonprofit agency which manages about 500 low- and moderate-income housing units in the county, including housing for seniors and disabled tenants.

"We knew there were children going without the lunchtime meal," said Elsie Walters, executive director of the Columbia Housing Corp.

"I know for a fact that food stamps usually run out by the fifteenth of the month and families have to stretch their resources to come up with adequate healthy meals," Ms. Walters said.

Also, in the summer months many children are left home alone when their parents are at work, and generally can't be counted on to prepare healthy meals for themselves.

This is the first time the food service program has been offered in Howard County, said Ms. Walters, who came to the corporation in June. She said she decided to apply for it after becoming familiar with the needs of residents living in the corporation housing, where tenant incomes range from $12,880 to $24,000.

The lunches, prepared by the Montgomery County school system's food service department, are served Monday through Friday at five of the corporation's Columbia communities: Fall River Terrace, Rideout Heath, Roslyn Rise, Ranleagh Court and Waverly Winds. Children between the ages of 1 and 18 are eligible for the lunches.

Ms. Walters estimates that between 100 and 200 lunches are served every day. Any leftover lunches go to the Grassroots homeless shelter in Columbia.

The federal Department of Agriculture finances the food service program and it is administered by the Maryland Department of Education. To run the program in Columbia through the end of August will cost approximately $27,000, with $22,000 for meal expenses and $5,000 for transportation and supplies, Ms. Walters said.

The program begins each day about 11:30 a.m. when a refrigerated truck carrying the lunches arrives at Fall River Terrace.

Columbia Housing Corp.'s youth coordinator, Daryl Dorsey, and six teens hired for the summer count out the appropriate number of lunches for each site and distribute them.

Last Friday at Fall River Terrace, nine children received a lunch -- turkey and ham on a roll, chocolate milk, orange juice and a piece of cantaloupe.

Some children ate on blankets spread out under trees and others took their lunches to the tot lot.

When the program began at the end of June, about 35 children came for lunches at Fall River Terrace, but Ms. Walters said attendance has dwindled because many of the children are going to day camp.

At Rideout Heath, the lunchtime scene was a bit livelier as 19 kids ate their lunches.

"I like giving out the food to the kids because a lot of them are not as fortunate I am, getting three meals a day," said Michelle Coates, 17, of Laurel, who's working part time this summer in the food service program.

The summer lunch program is just one part of the corporation's effort to expand activities for youths who live in its communities.

Ms. Walters plans to set up a tutoring and mentoring programs during the school year, and through a partnership with the Howard County Arts Council hopes to have artists-in-residence in music, language and the visual arts at some sites.

To get the youth program off the ground, the Columbia Foundation recently awarded the group a $10,000 grant.

"Exposure to the arts and hobbies can only add to the development of youth," Ms. Walters said. "Many parents don't have the wherewithal to get dance instruction for their kids or take them on field trips."

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