Summer is in full swing at the Boys & Girls Club of Alpena, where besides all the fun activities planned for the kids, a free food program also is being served up.
"We have lunch every day and snack every day at the club for kids ages 6 to 18," said Executive Director Susan Nielsen. "You don't have to be a member. Anybody between those ages can come to the club and eat."
The program kicked off last week with the end of the school year. On the first day of summer break, 24 youngsters took a pause from whatever activities they were involved in at the club to line up for lunch. The menu for the day featured a pasta/ham salad, watermelon, pickles and milk. Later in the day, the kids were expected to get crackers and cheese, plus juice as a snack.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Boys & Girls Club of Alpena staff members Matt Muszynski and Jen Digna serve up meals to some of the many youngsters currently enjoying the summer activities and free food program available at the facility.
Menus for later in the week included ham and cheese wraps, beef burritos, various kinds of fruit, carrots and homemade banana bread. All the food is prepared off-site by caterer Charleen Dubie and then transported by her to the club.
"Of course we want to provide a nutritious meal," Nielsen said. "The food is delicious and kid-friendly. We are really proud of our meals."
Saying please and thank-you are highly encouraged at mealtime at the club, but with a twist. Instead of routinely repeating the same words day after day, the kid have been learning sign language that they can use in place of the usual expected words.
When Nielsen first started working at the club a number of years ago, she watched some kids struggling because they were hungry.
"It interfered with every facet of their day," she said. "We then started to explore the possibility with other granters at the state level of feeding them somehow, some way."
The efforts paid off, and the club was deemed eligible for a year-round food program. It is provided through the federal government but regulated by the state.
"We're so grateful for it," Nielsen said. "We're happy to help our families in this way. So many of our families work. It's nice to know they can drop their kids off at noon and don't have to worry about lunch or snack. They don't need money to buy food that probably isn't that good for them anyway. They know they are going to have a great time with all the activities, plus have a nutritious meal and snack."
The other piece involved in providing a food program at the club is having activities to go along with it.
"The state of Michigan mandates that you have something to do, so we have tons of things for them to do," Nielsen said.
Throughout the summer, the club opens Monday through Friday at noon. Closing time is at 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. Friday.
The theme for the summer months is "The Great Outdoors."
"We want to get kids outside to enjoy all the great things they can take part in during the summer in Northern Michigan," Nielsen said.
The summer agenda includes nature-based programs, computer-generated programs, all kinds of character and leadership development programs, and lots of sports, fitness and recreation. Kids also will get to go fishing, hiking, exploring and fossil hunting.
Though membership is not required to take advantage of the free meal program, Nielsen said that at some point parents will be asked to fill out a very basic form giving permission for their child to join the club. For more information about the club or the food program, stop by the Boys & Girls Club, located at 601 River, or call 356-0214.