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‘We need to worry about these kids’

Summer food programs lacking in NE Michigan

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Ella White Elementary School kindergartners get lunch on Thursday.

ALPENA — With school out of session and summer officially here, local students who are in the free and reduced-price lunch program at schools have to figure out how to stay fed throughout the summer.

In Northeast Michigan, those options are limited.

Only three local school districts offer a summer food program: Alpena Public Schools, Onaway Area Community Schools, and Rogers City Area Schools.

Local school administrators say there are three main reasons why there are only three summer food programs in Northeast Michigan: funding, resources, and transportation.

THE THREE

LOCATIONS

Alpena, Onaway, and Rogers City are the only three school districts in Northeast Michigan that offer a summer food program for students.

Alpena has a program at Ella White Elementary School. Nic Wiser, food service director for Alpena schools, said Alpena resident John Diamond helps run that program throughout the summer. That is Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m. and is coorinated with the Feeding Kids Ministry.

Onaway Superintendent Rod Fullerton said Onaway’s summer food program is available for any child 18 and younger. He said the program is correlated with the school’s summer school program and helps get students fed through the three months of summer.

“We don’t see a lot of students, but occasionally do,” Fullerton said. “We have more kids who come to eat breakfast more than lunch.”

Victoria Paull, food service director for Rogers City Schools, said Rogers City has a program at Rogers City Elementary School for children ages 18 and younger. But, that is not limited to just Rogers City students, Paull said.

Posen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Michelle Wesner said some Posen students travel to Rogers City during the summer to get food.

REASONS

Carl Seiter, superintendent of Hillman Community Schools and Atlanta Community Schools, said it comes down to the number of meals that are served as to why Hillman and Atlanta don’t have summer food programs.

“The problem is that the program is reimbursed by the number of meals served, and the number of meals served over the summer would not be enough to pay the labor costs of preparation or the food costs,” Seiter said. “The biggest hurdle for a summer program is the transportation to and from the food service site.”

Posen, a school district of 213 students, is too small for a summer food program and it wouldn’t be feasible to run, Wesner said.

“Not many would utilize it,” she said.

Wiser said Alpena schools has explored more summer food program options, but transportation is the biggest obstacle. The school district covers more than 600 square miles, so it would be hard for some students and families to travel to receive food daily.

Alcona Community Schools is looking into different options, district food service director Nick Cordes said. Alcona used to have its food service program ran through Alpena schools and just brought it back in-house.

Jeff Powers, food service director for Hillman, said a summer food program is something that will be a topic of discussion in the future for the district.

OTHER PROGRAMS

There are a few other programs in the area not affiliated with local school districts to help students and families during the summer.

Wiser said the Salvation Army in Alpena offers food for students throughout the summer. One of the district’s lead cooks runs that program and Wiser said that programs complements the goodwill of Northeast Michigan. That is Monday through Friday with breakfast at 9:30 a.m. and lunch at noon.

The Boys and Girls Club of Alpena is also hosting its own Summer Food Service Program for children.

A lunch and snack are both available for children ages 19 and younger. The program starts on June 17 and runs through Aug. 16 with lunch at 1 p.m. and a snack period at 4 p.m. There will be no lunch or snack on July 4 or 5 and no membership is required.

The Friendship Room at St. Bernard’s will be available for anyone Monday to Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

There is also the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children program. Diane Golzynski, director of health and nutrition services for the Michigan Department of Education, said that program is a federal grant program that gives each child $30 a month to buy food. Each student gets a card that they can use to go to the store and buy food.

“It targets students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch and also don’t live in an area where there’s no summer food program,” Golzynski said. “We need to worry about these kids.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.