Free summer meal program in Newport expands to include breakfast and lunchThe adage that says there’s no such thing as a free lunch doesn’t apply to Newport children.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
The adage that says there’s no such thing as a free lunch doesn’t apply to Newport children.
This is the third year in which lunches are served during the summer months free of charge, but this summer breakfast has been added.
The city’s kids qualify for a federal lunch program because more than half of the Newport Elementary School students receive free or reduced-price lunches. When the city qualified, it allows the school to serve free lunches to all kids in the city for five years.
Though School District 833 was aware that the city qualified for free summer lunches, the first year the school was closed because a new heating and cooling system was being installed.
Mary Beth Kowalenko, a Newport resident, wasn’t willing to wait a year.
“You can’t just tell a kid, ‘Catch you next year,’” she said.
The district’s Nutrition Services Department agreed to bring bag lunches to the park beside Fire Station No. 1 and Kowalenko was there to help give them out.
Since then, she’s been at school every day food is served, to wipe off tables and encourage the kids.
“More kids have heard about it this year,” she said. “It’s awesome that they’re getting two meals a day.”
Kowalenko was also instrumental in getting a community garden started.
The kids love “mac and cheese,” and tacos are a favorite. There’s a different menu every day for three weeks. The kids were not too keen on fish, according to Kowalenko. Instead of telling them it was catfish, she told them it was fish and chips.
Many of the kids are home alone during the day while their parents are working, she said. The older kids look after the younger ones.
There’s been an average of 50 kids being served each day. Attendance is higher on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the kids get to go to Pioneer Park for a city-supervised summer recreation program.
Each child gets one meal and there are no seconds allowed under federal rules. Cooks and Kowalenko are allowed free lunches as well but, when needed, Kowalenko gives her lunch to an extra hungry teen.
This is the last year Kowalenko will volunteer the for food program. A born-again Christian, she is moving on to mission work.
“The Lord saved me three years ago,” she said.
Newport resident Jane Beaumont is laid off from her job. She has a van and brings her three children to school in addition to offering rides to her neighbors. It helps her make ends meet and there is a nice variety of food including fruits and vegetables, she said.
Paula Kolodziej brings her sons for lunch, especially on city recreation days. Though her children are not getting free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, they live in a neighborhood where there aren’t any other children during the day.
“They need the social interaction with other kids,” she said.