A single dad seeking convenience. A mom rushing between jobs with her daughter in tow. A group of kids who stay at the rec center from open until close. These are just a few of the people taking advantage of Minneapolis Public Schools and the Park and Rec Department’s summer meal program.
Anyone under age 18 can eat free breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack at one of 26 parks around Minneapolis this summer. Each participating park serves one meal and one snack. Last year the program served 346,113 meals to kids. A similar program across the river serves meals at St. Paul parks and libraries.
The program is meant to assure that the approximately 34,277 kids, or 65 percent of the district’s enrollment, who ate free or reduced price lunch last school year continue to get the nutrients they need during the summer. In practice, the program also acts as a time-saver for busy parents balancing work and childcare while school’s out.
It’s tough for Juliean Whipple to put together balanced lunches for her granddaughter when they eat at home. Fruits and vegetables can be expensive and time-consuming to cook. At Logan Park in Northeast Minneapolis this Thursday her 3-year-old ate a turkey sub, snap peas, grapes and milk.
Amy Adams rushed through the rec center door with her school-age daughter. She works every day and shuffles among various childcare providers. “[The meal program] is kind of a lifesaver at this point,” she said before hurrying to another appointment.
Sarah Bonds* struggles to keep her second-grader entertained when school’s out. Bonds said, “She’s accustomed to doing doing, doing all the time.” Making the rounds to different parks is part of Bonds’ summer strategy. Free lunches are a convenient plus.
This summer, in an effort to reduce packaging and food waste, some parks are doing away with pre-assembled meals packaged on a disposable tray. Instead, kids can pick the items they want to eat, and leave the rest on a “sharing table.”
Logan Park serves an average of 40 kids every day. Although this particular hot Thursday was slow and the park served mostly parents with kids, meal coordinator Adrianne Smith said typically many of the park’s eaters are kids between ages 7 and 18, coming in alone. She and co-coordinator Jumoke Owens get the sense that those kids don’t eat much outside of the rec center.
“They’re here all day,” Owens said. “The lunch doors open, and they run in.”
*Name has been changed. Source did not want acquaintances to know where she ate lunch.