PARIS — School’s out for summer, but the need for healthy food for children hasn’t taken a vacation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program has been established to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.
But the free weekday lunch and breakfast is not limited to low-income families. It is available to all.
“I love it,” said 9-year-old Taylor Canning of Hebron as she sat down at a lunch table in the Paris Elementary School cafeteria with a plate filled with fresh salad that included eggs and kale from the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway.
She and her friend Kaylin Danforth, also 9, of Paris, are two of the 50 or so children who gather at Paris Elementary School at 5 Hathaway Road every day from noon to 12:30 p.m. to enjoy a free lunch, filled with live music, chatter and nutritious food. Breakfast is also offered at the site from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.
The two friends are part of group of children enrolled in a summer program at Paris Elementary School and are joined by a handful of children whose moms brought them to school to enjoy lunch.
About 200 children and teenagers are fed each day in Paris Elementary School and Roberts Farm Preserve and more are expected as Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School sets up a free breakfast and lunch site this month.
School Administrative District 17, Regional School Unit 16, Healthy Oxford Hills, the Progress Center, Community Concepts and other organizations tapped into the USDA’s program to provide free meals to children and young people ages three to 18 during summer vacation.
Edie Schulz of Paris who had four-year-old twins in tow said the lunch program was “very convenient” and an opportunity for the boys to interact with other children.
“We’d come every day if we could,” she said.
Another mother, Jara Wilson of Paris, who came with her sister and five children, including a friend’s child, said the free lunch program allows them to save money and dishes.
“They’re always very good,” she said of the lunches.
Because the food is available by just walking into a site, it is not always possible to know exactly how many children will show up each day. Food is never wasted and leftovers can be recycled into the next day’s menu.
“It’s hard. We have an estimate,” SAD 17 Food Services Director Jodi Truman said when asked how they prepare food for an unknown number of children.
Truman and her summer crew load food into vans each day to deliver to the various free meal sites. Many are located where cafeterias exist, such as at local schools, but others are delivered to outdoor sites, such as Moore Park in Paris.
Maine has 350 sites this summer offering free meals, Truman said.
Lunch at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School at 256 Main St. in South Paris runs from 11:30 a.m. to noon (breakfast is also served at the high school from 7:30 to 8 a.m.). Meals will also be served in South Paris at Moore Park on Route 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All meals with run through Aug. 21, except for in West Paris.
In Norway, meals will be provided at Norway Lake from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Progress Center on Cottage Street from 11:30 a.m. to noon.
In Oxford, lunch will be at Pismo Beach from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and at The Regency on Skeetfield Road from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In West Paris, lunch will be served at the Agnes Gray Elementary School on Main St. from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., but only from July 7 through Aug. 14.
The Maine Department of Education, Child Nutrition office notifies Department of Health and Human Services offices through out Maine of sites and times the program is available. Parents can also call 2-1-1 or go to the Maine Child Nutrition website to get that information, Truman said.