Champaign schools offer free, healthy meals for students under 18

Select+Champaign+schools+are+serving+as+summer+meal+sites%2C+providing+students+with+free+nutritious+meals.

Select Champaign schools are serving as summer meal sites, providing students with free nutritious meals.

By Alicia Lee

Select schools in the Champaign Unit 4 School District are acting as summer meal sites, where students under 18 can get free nutritious meals. 

“Champaign Unit 4 has been offering this program for many years,” said Mary Davis, director of food services. “We work with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Joseph Williams, 21, is a site manager at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, which is one of the summer food sites.

“This might be the only meal that some kids might get. We don’t know what situations these kids are in,” Williams said. “It’s a good program. This might be the only thing in their bellies.”

Davis said the meal participation rate during the school year is over 60 percent of district enrollment. 

“These same children need access to nutritious meals during the summer,” she said. “Their younger siblings are able to eat with us during the summer food service program. Children not receiving important nutrients become ill more often, have trouble focusing during activities, and feel disengaged when their performance doesn’t meet standards.”

Although this program has been offered for many years, participation is at an all-time high. 

Davis said in Champaign, there was a 20 percent increase from last year. In the state of Illinois, there was an increase of more than 15 percent, according to Suzy Lee, coordinator of No Kid Hungry Illinois.

“That worked out to over 600,000 additional meals served in 2014,” Lee said in a press release. “But we still have a lot of work to do. Even with that increase, we’re still reaching less than 15 out of 100 kids that are eligible for a free or reduced-price meal during the school year.”

For breakfast, students are offered two grains (such as a breakfast bar and cereal), juice or fruit and milk. For lunch, an entrée, fruit or juice, a vegetable and milk are provided. Students must pick at least 3 of the items.

The food provided at the summer meal sites are all the same and come from Centennial High School Production Kitchen.

To find the nearest summer food site, parents can text FOODIL to 877877 or visit summermealsillinois.org.

ajlee12@dailyillini.com