Dinner With Friends

Food Bank Provides Summer Meals For Hungry Md. Teens

August 12, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

For about 35 teens, the PAL Center in Woodmoor doesn't just mean board games and billiards, basketball tournaments and the occasional movie; the children also get a free dinner with friends.

Most walk to the center in Baltimore County, arriving about 4 p.m. weekdays and typically staying until the building closes at 8 p.m. Nearly all say they enjoy the simple cold supper served from a paper bag.

"I like that we have different things for dinner every day and that I get to talk to my friends," said Amandi Alston, 15. "I would rather have soda, but I know that the juice and milk they give us are better for us."

For students accustomed to free breakfast and lunch at school, summer can be a hungry time. The Maryland Food Bank is serving 1,600 children daily, including the Woodmoor teens, through its Summer Food Service Program. The food bank is assisting nearly twice the number of children in this second year of the program and in many cases is providing the younger children two meals a day.

"These are solid, nutritious meals," said Shanna Yetman, a spokeswoman for the food bank. "For children in low-income areas, three meals a day can be a stretch for many parents, especially in this economy. Summer is a particularly hard time for these children."

The federally funded program, administered through the Maryland State Department of Education's School and Community Nutrition Programs, has made the food bank the local sponsor. It provides meals through vendors at five sites in Baltimore County, seven in Anne Arundel, four in Baltimore, one in Cecil County and six on the Eastern Shore. Some centers see up to 80 children a day and serve three meals.

"We identify and manage the sites," said John Shaia, the program director. "But we know the numbers of children who need this program are on the rise and we need to increase this program."

According to the 2007 Census Update, 144,000 children younger than 18 live at or below the federal poverty level. Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief charity and a partner of the Maryland Food Bank, puts that number at more than 200,000.

"We are trying to feed as many children as we can this summer," Yetman said.

At the Woodmoor location, the teens gather in the art room about 5 p.m. and engage in lively conversation as they eat sandwiches, fruit and dessert and drink a glass of milk and a cup of juice.

"They are here hanging out at the center, and they just stay for dinner," said Sam Buppert, 20, the center's assistant manager. "A lot of them say they would not have dinner if we didn't have it for them here. These are all growing kids who need food."

Jeriah Williams, 13, said the meals at the center are better than what he might have at home. Jasmen Jackson, 17, said she likes the chicken drumsticks best. Nija Parker, 14, likes having fresh fruit every day.

"We are all like a big family here," Jasmen said.

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