During the school year, thousands of Ohio children from low-income families receive discounted or free lunches in the cafeteria. In the summertime, some of those kids are able to get free lunches at parks and playgrounds. And as Ohio Public Radio's Bill Cohen reports, some children are even getting food to take home.
On this sunny Friday at noon at a park in the Columbus suburb of Westerville, dozens of children were playing. But then they're beckoned over to the shelter house where they get a free lunch--and then they're given something more. Deb Wallace helps lead the program.
DW: The children receive a backpack that contains six meals. Two breakfasts two lunches and two dinners for them to have over the weekend. And it's all shelf-stable, kid-friendly items that they can open themselves without assistance, prepare themselves, or microwave it if they need to and enjoy over the weekend.
Governor John Kasich stopped by to salute the program volunteers, the kids, and the project.
JK: If these kids didn't get this food, where are they going to eat this weekend? What are they going to do? They wouldn't eat at all.
On this day, a temporary emergency food pantry is set up next to the shelter house. While the kids eat their lunch and get their backpacks, parents are offered fresh fruits and vegetables to take home.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt heads the statewide group of food banks.
LHF: I've been doing this work for 25 years and I've been out this summer and I have never seen so many kids and their families, and grandparents showing up at summer food service program sites--they're all saying the same thing, "We're working as hard as we can, but that paycheck just isn't stretching. My hours have been cut. I've lost my job. I can't find another job." These programs are critical to ensuring that our children are well nourished during the summer.
BC: Don't most of these families get food stamps?
LHF: No they don't. And I think that is a significant myth. Especially when we see in the urban areas, it's automatically assumed that people receive food stamps. It has the lowest eligibility criteria of any federal program. Your net income can not exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level. And it's not automatic that kids or their families are on the federal food stamp program.
Ask the children about the special Friday lunch and the weekend take-home food program, and they proclaim the food is tasty. An 8-year-old boy even acknowledges how it helps financially-pinched families keep food on the table.
Boy: It's very great for people to have a lot of food when they can't eat--when they don't have a lot of money to get food. So this is very great.