Mary Garcia remembers eating free lunches at Integral Youth Services Free Summer Lunch Program as a child.
Now in her fourth year managing the program, Garcia still enjoys providing local youth with a free lunch, something they often cannot find anywhere else outside the program during the summer.
Integral Youth Services is again hosting the 2019 Free Summer Lunch Program for youth age 1 to 18. The program hosts its first lunch on Monday, June 17, with more than 30 lunch sites and times available in Klamath Falls and Klamath County communities. The program lasts through Aug. 23. The program started in Klamath Falls in 2003, according to organizers.
“I see it grow and grow more and more every year,” Garcia said.
Child Hunger Coalition of Klamath County will also host a summer kickoff of its “Park & Play” Summer lunch series from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25 at Mills Kiwanis Park. The event features play activities in addition to free lunches. Subsequent “Park & Play” sites will have an activity included at Kit Carson Park, Richmond Park, Keno Library, Stukel Park and Mills Kiwanis Park.
“I think they really count on us being at the parks,” Garcia said.
“Being able to give them more hot food this year is going to be awesome — I think they’re going to love it.”
The federally funded program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program, feeds between 18,000 and 22,000 meals each year, according to Craig Schuhmann, outreach programs director at IYS.
The summertime program is meant to supplement the free and reduced lunch program offered during the school year.
“What we base it off of is the free and reduced lunch program in the schools, they give you a variable to look at the income of the families that are enrolled and give you an idea of how many are in need,” said Renea Wood, of Child Hunger Coalition of Klamath County.
But organizers emphasize that meals are provided to all youth regardless of income requirements.
“In order to have a site, it has to be in a school boundary that has 50 percent or greater free and reduced lunches, which is pretty much every school in Klamath County,” Schuhmann said.
Roosevelt, Keno and Henley Elementary Schools are the only elementary schools not in the category of having more than 50% of students eligible for free and reduced lunches.
This year IYS is adding more “hot meals” to the menu thanks to a $10,000 grant awarded the non-profit by Oregon Department of Education.
Items like soft pretzels, burritos, and corn dogs will join sandwiches, fruits and vegetables, and milk on the lunch menu this year.
The menu follows a five-component model, with each lunch including a grain, protein, fruit, vegetable and milk, Schuhmann said.
The meals are provided in partnership with the Child Hunger Coalition of Klamath County, USDA and Oregon Department of Education.
IYS is reimbursed $3.45 per meal served. In 2018, the non-profit served up 20,000 meals within 10 weeks and plans to do that and more this year.
“This year we’re expecting something similar,” Schuhmann said. “Over the last five or six years, it’s fluctuated.”
For more information about the lunch program, call 541-882-2053. A map with information about lunch sites and schedules is available at www.summerfoodoregon.org/map.