Carson City nonprofit Food for Thought Inc., will continue to serve free lunches to children younger than 18 between 11 a.m. and noon daily onsite at the Bridge Church, 901 N. Stewart St.
The program provides free, nutritious lunches to youth who are unable to access other lunch programs throughout the summer months away from school. The program begins Monday and will end Aug. 9 and will not serve food July 4 and 5.
Now in its eighth summer, Executive Director Marlene Maffei, one of three part-time staff, said her team originally decided not to offer the program again because there was a drastic reduction in the numbers of children being served year over year. Last year, according to Maffei, the team served 100 children per day at three feeding sites and in 2017, they served about 130 children in two locations. Last year, in total, Food for Thought served about 6,300 lunches in 49 days and in 2017, the total dropped to 4,900 lunches in the same timeframe, she said.
But within the past weeks, Food for Thought suddenly received an outpouring in calls from parents asking if its services this summer would continue at any of its locations, so her staff decided to act.
“(The number) has been dropping off, and we weren’t really sure if our location at (Park Terrace Park) had run its course,” Maffei said. “The kids don’t come there anymore, and kids had moved out of the neighborhood. We weren’t 100 percent sure what was going on. That’s why we decided to step away from it this year.”
The Bridge Church is the only Food for Thought location this year to provide the lunches to area children. Last year’s program experienced a decline in participants, and organizers announced they were unable to obtain more grant funding to further support the summer program.
Previously, Food for Thought had planted itself at Park Terrace Park behind Empire Elementary School. One of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for the summer nutrition program for low- to moderate-income families for children in need of free lunches such as what Food for Thought provides is being within walking distance of where the families live. The Bridge is located near these families, Maffei said, and there are apartments in these lower-income communities.
“I think the biggest obstacle for these kids is location,” she said, adding the Boys and Girls Club offers an opening feeding site at the Stewart Center, but it might not be a feasible option to all the children and teens among the same geographic areas Food for Thought has targeted.
Food for Thought has received other support from other children’s organizations in the community, however, which asked to keep the lunches going. In an effort to fill various identified voids, Food for Thought partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA’s aid will assist with partial funding for 2019’s program.
Children will received “prepped” food, Maffei said, which means everything is cooked and nothing is premade or prepackaged. The menus consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade ranch sauce, milk, chicken and cheese burritos, sandwiches, ham and turkey sandwiches, and everything rotates between about 12 and 15 items. The staff goes in at about 7 or 7:30 a.m. every day to prepare the meals and everything is served from 11 a.m. to noon. Food is purchased from Costco.
“We really think it’s important because the majority of funding ... is reinvested by shopping locally,” she said.
Food for Thought expects a shortfall of more than $8,000 to keep up with the program’s objectives and is asking for the public’s assistance. Cash donations and Costco gift cards are being sought. Donations can be made online at www.nvfoodforthought.org, by mail or drop off at 3246 N. Carson St., suite 118.
Children do not need to be enrolled in any program at the meal site. However, adults are not eligible for these federally funded meals. Additionally, meals must be eaten at the serving site and cannot be carried away.
Maffei emphasized the strong need for the children who receive free and reduced lunches in the Carson City School District who need these lunches throughout the summer.
“I think there really is a need for these services, and as a community, we need to figure out a way to make it more accessible for the kids,” she said. “I personally would love to see the schools open up in the summer. ... I think it would make sense. These kids really are going without. For a lot of the kids, it’s the only meal of the day that we’re giving them.”
To learn more about participation, donations and sponsorships, visit www.nvfoodforthought.org or call 775-885-7770.