Patricia Cabrera and her neighbors walked to the park just north of Empire Elementary School on Monday. They sat in the shade, feeding their babies, while their older children ran through the grass or sprinkled glitter on an art project.
“The kids are happy here,” Cabrera said. “They can eat and play. Two things at the same time.”
More than 70 children showed up Monday to eat a free lunch and participate in activities as part of Food for Thought’s second annual summer lunch program.
Stephanie Gardner, executive director of the nonprofit Food for Thought, which discreetly provides food to children in need over the weekend, said the program arose out of a community need.
“It was hard because the kids would ask us if they could still get food from us during the summer,” she said. “I didn’t like saying no, but I had to say no.”
The pilot program was introduced last year, and looks as if it will grow this year. Although it’s only in its second week, Gardner said, 115 children showed up for lunch Friday, numbers the group didn’t see last year until mid-July or August.
“I think the need has increased and the awareness has increased,” Gardner said.
Amber Summers, 12, is a regular.
“It’s just a place to hang out and eat some lunch,” she said. “You get to talk to friends you hardly get to see.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada provides crafts and games Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Community volunteers provide activities on the other days.
“It’s fun because we get to do crafts,” said Chantell Salgado, 9. “I like to do ones that you make with glitter.”
Lunch is provided from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. weekdays to children ages 2 to 6 at the Park Terrace Park north of Empire Elementary School. Gardner said the site was chosen because the school provides free breakfasts and lunches to all students there during the school year. About 200 of the 850 students served by Food for Thought each week attend Empire Elementary. The organization will look to expand the program to additional sites next year, Gardner said.
A partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the funding for the program. Last year, the food was supplied through the Carson City School District’s nutrition program. This year, two Carson High School culinary arts students have been hired to prepare the meals.
On Tuesdays, the Lady Tamales provides tamales, which are supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables — as is every meal. The produce is either purchased or donated through local farmers markets.
“I have been impressed to see them eating a mixed-green salad and eating their broccoli,” Gardner said.
Uravis Montero, 6, has been pleased with the menu so far.
“We have cheese and sandwiches and (strawberries) and chocolate milk,” he said. “We eat and we have fun.”