COLUMBIA – In its 11th year, Free Lunch in the Park is gearing up to serve more meals in Douglass Park than last year.
The program, sponsored by the Health Department, distributes free lunches to children 18 years old and younger starting Monday and continuing through Aug. 12. Lunch is served every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The program served 115 children per day last summer but expects to serve more than that this summer, Public Health Manager Mary Martin said.
“We had 84 children today,” Martin said. “We have never had that many on a first day.”
Martin said the reduced number of summer school days could contribute to a rise in free lunches served.
Roy Moeller, who works with summer school enrollment for Columbia Public Schools, said summer school has been shortened to 20 days, four fewer days than last year.
Martin said a typical lunch includes milk, an apple, a small bag of carrots and a turkey sandwich.
Columbia Public Schools prepares the meals at Smithton Middle School’s kitchen and delivers them to Douglass Park.
The Public Health and Human Services Department pays $3 per meal to the school district and is in turn reimbursed $3.24 per meal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the figures provided by Martin.
Martin said the extra 24 cents per meal pays for a three-hour-per-day worker that helps organize the distribution of meals, paper water cups and cooler replacements. Last year the program spent about $18,000 for food, Martin said.
“The summer camps will have a lot more kids this year,” Martin said. “I have a feeling this is going to be a busy year, which is a good thing.”
The program relies on volunteers to help serve the lunches, Martin said.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Cindy Mustard at the Voluntary Action Center at 449-6959.