Even when school isn’t in session, hungry faces fill the cafeteria at McNary Heights Elementary during the Umatilla School District’s summer feeding program.

From early June to late August, the program provides a free hot meal for any child under 18. This year, the summer feeding program began June 6, the Monday after the 2010-11 school year ended. With one week left in the season, workers had served children 12,544 meals as of Monday, Aug. 15.

“There is greater participation this year than last year,” Child Nutrition Director Guy Jager said Tuesday. “The one thing that we do that’s unique is we offer one accompanying adult a free lunch. It helps us feel better about the children moving to and from (the site), and the majority of these parents appreciate the meal just as much as the kids.”

In June and July, the program operates at three sites: McNary Heights, Clara Brownell Middle School and Umatilla Marina Park. 

For most of the summer, the program served about 300 meals a day at the three sites, but the numbers dropped at both Clara Brownell and Marina Park in August as many children began attending the district’s summer school program, geared toward migrant and Title 1 eligible students.

During summer school, the program averages 190 breakfasts and 230 lunch meals a day. The program also serves volunteers and an additional 20 parent “walk-in” meals a day.

The program wrapped up this week with the close of summer school, but Food Services will be back on track Aug. 29 for the launch of the 2011-12 school year.

“Staff will take next week off to close up summer school and do cleanup, then we start teacher in-service,” Jager said. “There’s really no break for child nutrition.”

During the school year, Food Services dishes more than 1,000 meals a day, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We serve 900, 950 lunches a day during the school year, then we serve breakfast and we support the after-school program,” Jager said. “Students can actually get three meals a day if they’re involved in the after-school enrichment programs.”

In addition to keeping children fed and active, the program also means equipment is used year-round and employees do not have to be retrained at the beginning of the school year.

“This gives kids an opportunity to eat during the summer, it’s building a family bond because we invite the parents, and it allows me to keep my employees employed,” Jager said. “It’s beneficial all around.”

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