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YMCA and Gaston Schools team up to feed kids

These kids at Kendrick Square Apartments in Mt. Holly were enjoying some time together at the summer lunch program. From left- Hezekiah Benton, Tatiana Benton, Teyon Phillips, Trayvon Phillips. Photo by Alan Hodge

by Alan Hodge

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The sixth annual YMCA/Gaston Schools Nutrition summer lunch program is in full swing and kids at a variety of locations are enjoying the food and friendship that comes with it.

Last week saw a group of youngsters from Kendrick Square Apartments in Mt. Holly get together  to chow down on a nice lunch, and have some fun just hangin’ out. 

Ten year old Treyvon Phillips is a Kenderick Square participant.

“I like meeting the other kids,” he said “We have fun playing and eating together.”

Kids 18 years and younger can participate.  

The Kendrick Square lunch program site manager is Jada Alexander.

“The kids love the program,” she said. “They get to play games, read books, play on the playground, and have a good lunch.”

YMCA development director Molly D’Avira stopped by Kendrick Square to help with the lunch activities.

“The YMCA is having the program at two other apartment complexes besides Kendrick Square,” she said. “The others are Flowers Court in Belmont and Holly Hills in Mt. Holly. We try to give the kids a camp experience in an hour with an educational component, physical activity, a good lunch, and positive adult roles models. As of today we have served 733 nutritious meals at our three locations! Let’s be proud of this number but remember that this is exactly why we need to make sure this program is well funded and supported by volunteers who are making a huge difference in the lives of these kids.”

The Gaston County Schools aspect of the summer lunch program is having success as well as the YMCA sites.

“School Nutrition is grateful to have a supportive community and dedicated employees,”

said Caren Berrier, Assistant Director of School Nutrition. “Each year, the Summer Foodservice Program grows due to the enthusiasm of our staff and volunteers spreading the word and reaching families who didn’t know this service existed.  This past June, School Nutrition and its partners were able to serve 13,450 breakfast meals and 20,760 lunch meals to the children in our community.  We hope to continue to provide nutritious meals for a healthy diet, body, and mind so the children in our community will have a strong foundation of healthy choices in their future.”

Why is the summer lunch program so important?

Summer can be an anxiety-provoking time for 16 million kids across the U.S. who are struggling with hunger at home. The end of every school year means lost access to free and reduced-price lunches that provide regular nutrition to growing bodies. For a child who does not receive regular, healthy meals at home, the summer months may feel extra long.

The result of summer hunger, especially over many years, can be devastating to children’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. When kids are malnourished or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they cannot focus, their academic performance may suffer and they are more likely to act out against peers and adults.

Here are a few common signs that a child may struggle with hunger:

1. They ask about food every day and they’re not picky.

If a child seems fixated on meals or expresses consistent interest in when the next snack is being served, she may be struggling with hunger at home. While children are often hungry at regular eating times or following activities, pay attention to children who arrive at camp hungry and are rarely selective about what they eat.

2. They suddenly lose or gain weight.

Not all children who are hungry are thin. The result of lost access to regular nutrition can sometimes mean families are relying on low-price, low-quality processed food, junk food, or sugary snacks and beverages. If a child appears to be gaining weight in summer, a calorie-rich, nutrient-void diet may be to blame.

3. They hoard snacks and food.

If food is provided at your summer camp, pay attention to children who seem to take more than a fair share, ask for extra portions to take home or sneak snacks into their pockets. Children who do not know where their next meal is coming from may exhibit these types of hoarding food behaviors as a survival strategy.

4. They are bullying or behaving badly.

‘Hanger’ pains are real. As adults, we know that our concentration and moods are impacted by our hunger. Yet adults (more likely) have the coping skills and resources to manage appropriately. For kids, who are not yet fully developed, the inability to access food regularly can cause behavior issues that affect their camp peers and counselors. If a child is acting aggressively, picking fights with other children (especially over food or money) or seems distracted, he may be struggling with hunger. Similarly, a child who lacks energy throughout the day may also be going to bed on an empty stomach. Read more about how hunger affects children’s behavior.

5. Their teeth are decaying.

A diet filled with sugar is the leading cause of tooth decay in young children. Lack of calcium is also a contributing factor. When children are not receiving proper nutrition at home and/or not receiving dental care, the warning signs can be seen on their smiling faces. Early-intervention can help prevent lifelong complications.

Are you interested in volunteering for the summer lunch program?

Contact Molly D’Avria, Director of Advancement, Gaston County Family YMCA, 201 South Clay Street, Gastonia, NC 28052, Phone - 704.865.8551 ext 138.

It’s easy to find the lunch/breakfast location closest to you. Just text FOODNC to 877877. When prompted, submit your zip code and you will receive a reply with the locations in your area. The free meals are provided through the Summer Feeding Program that is in place to ensure that no child goes hungry while away from school over the summer.