Nancy Edmonds Hanson
On school days, mealtime is hot, healthy and nutritious for every Moorhead child. The school district makes sure of that, regardless of families’ ability to pay. Breakfast and lunch are served five days a week from the day classes start in September until the last bell in June. Weekends are covered by the Backpack Program, sending a weekend’s worth of food home for children who might otherwise go hungry.
But what happens after school wraps up next Tuesday? A perhaps-surprising share of Moorhead’s youngest could be at risk of missing meals on their summer break … if not for SFSP, the Summer Food Service Program. The Moorhead school district will begin serving free eats in six city parks and at Moorhead High School on Monday, June 11. Meanwhile, a separate program operated by the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties brings a food truck to two elementary schools, Robert Asp and Ellen Hopkns, for lunch and early suppers starting next week.
“Hunger is a much bigger deal in our community than many people realize,” notes elementary social worker Nadine Moon, who with food service director Donna Tvedt plans and operates the district’s summer food program. Nationally, one out of six children under 18 doesn’t always know where their next meal will come from. In Moorhead, the ratio might be even higher. Nadine says 45 to 50 percent of children at Asp and Hopkins are eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year. Smaller but still-substantial numbers qualify at S.G. Reinertson and Dorothy Dodds schools. The citywide average is 30 percent.
The federal Department of Agriculture funds local summer nutrition programs like the two that are active here to the tune of $9.7 million in Minnesota and more than $900,000 in North Dakota. Administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, the Moorhead school district’s share – $35,000 this summer – underwrote meals for an average of 650 children between the ages of 1 and 18 every weekday last summer. “We’d love to have more this year,” Donna adds.
The outdoor meals are open to everyone who lines up – no eligibility required, no paperwork and no questions asked. Though the age extends to teens, the majority of her “customers” are youngsters brought by their parents or daycares. Many of the eaters at the high school are participants in summer athletic camps and other activities. Accompanying adults can eat, too, but must pay a fee.
The local summer program dates back six years, when it started out at Arrowhead Park on the north side, Romkey and Queens Parks in south Moorhead, and Moorhead High. It’s been growing ever since, both in the number of sites where parents can bring their offspring – four more parks this year – and in the fun they’ll find there. In addition to the 10 kitchen workers who cook up meals, the program depends on teachers who willingly volunteer to work with the youngsters who turn up each day. “The kids love to see their teachers outside of the classroom,” Donna observes.
Another attraction is the Moorhead Public Library’s traveling librarians, who’ll be making the rounds for the third time this year. They’ll visit each site once a week, bringing books to read and sometimes to give away. “At the end of last summer, so many kids gave us hugs and asked us to come back again,” librarian Jenna Kahly says, “that we’re so pleased to be able to do so.” Along with the fun of storytime and other activities, she points out how important it is to keep children engaged and learning all summer long. “We strongly believe that reading over the summer and having access to materials is critical to maintaining skills over the break.”
That’s not all that youngsters learn. Donna says that after some concerns about litter during the program’s first summers in the park, lunchtime now includes lessons in respecting public property. The park settings are perfect, too, for Boys and Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley’s mobile rec truck. It will travel to Belsly, Romkey, Queens and Stonemill parks around lunchtime for structured games and physical activity.
While guests don’t need to qualify for the free meals, the USDA program is based on serving areas where the need is greater. That’s the rationale behind the six Moorhead parks where lunch will be available, as well as the two schools where the YMCA food truck will pull up each day.
Moorhead Schools meals sites
June 11-28 and July 8-Aug. 9, Monday through Friday
Northeast Park, 1817 Eighth Ave. N., 11-11:30 a.m.
Arrowhead Park, 2600 Sixth Ave. N., 11:45 a.m.-noon (library visits)
Bennett Park, 302 17th St. S., 12:15-12:45 p.m.
Queens Park, 3201 20th St. S., 11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (library visits; Boys & Girls Club)
Romkey Park, 900 19th St. S., 12:30-1 p.m. (Boys & Girls Club)
Belsly Park, 3500 12th St. S., 11:05-11:35 a.m. (Boys & Girls Club)
Moorhead High School, 2300 Fourth Ave. S. – June 11-28 and July 8-26 – breakfast 7:45-8:45 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
YMCA Summer Eats
June 3-Aug. 29, Monday through Friday
Robert Asp and Ellen Hopkins Schools
Lunch, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; cold supper 4-5 p.m.