GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Thousands of West Michigan children get their primary meal of the day at school. Since hunger doesn't take the summer off, Grand Rapids Public Schools is offering its Summer Meals Program.
Paul Baumgartner, Director of Nutrition Services for Grand Rapids Public Schools, says the program, which begins Monday, June 17th, will feed between 2,500 to 3,000 children each day.
"It is something that has been around for many, many years in the United States. When school is not is session, summer meals is right there," he said. "We like to say school meals make a difference. Well summer meals make a difference too."
Baumgartner says even though the majority of students qualify as low income, the meals are not based on financial need. Baumgartner says the goal is to fuel all students for success year round.
Students and children are busy all summer long. Whether they are involved in a bible camp, summer reading programs they can participate in these meal programs," he said. It is good solid nutrition and it is a good continuation of what they are accustomed to during the school year.
"Meals are available free of charge. There are open sites in Grand Rapids through GRPS. We have 30 open sites throughout the community. Those are available to the children 18 years of age or younger," he said, adding that children do not have to be GRPS students to receive meals.
The program is just one of several nutrition resources available to West Michigan families. Another is a pilot program, the Summer EBT Program, that GRPS has partnered with the USDA for 3 years.
"And we are happy to say our program has expanded from 5,000 families all the way to 30,000 families over these last 3 years," said Baumgartner.
The program provides children with well-balanced and nutritious breakfasts and lunches during the summer months. Parents are given electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to shop for groceries. The SEBTC program uses a Bridge Card for similar to the WIC system.
Only the catch is it needs to be fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bread that kind of thing," said Baumgartner. "Moms and dads can take those cards, those EBT cards in the summer months supplement a bridge card, supplement the summer meal program or supplement the pantries. It takes place right at the grocery stores and even farmers markets.
Autumn Landis, a mother of two, says the Summer EBT program has made a huge difference in her life.
I feel better now as a mother now that I can help them," she said.
She says she can help her daughters have dietary staples like milk, eggs and cheese and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. It's something Landis hadn't been able to do after recently losing a management position at a local restaurant.
"It was a big life change," she said. "We were going to my grandmother's house eating dinner, breakfast and lunch."
Now, Landis is able to supplement her part-time income, and buy her girls nutritious food without fearing how to pay for it.
"We can go out and buy whatever is healthy and good. Whatever they want to eat," she said. "There are lots of resources and I am recently finding them before I didn't know where to look before."
The Summer EBT Program expanded this year to include Detroit. Baumgartner believes it will continue to grow and become a model for the entire country.
If you want information on where to get summer meals in your area, you can call 2-1-1.