Free summer lunches available to area children

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Thanks to a new partnership between federal, state and local governments, area children will be able to receive free lunches throughout June and July.

Starting Monday and continuing through July 27, Powell Valley Healthcare will be providing sack lunches at the Homesteader Park warming house/baseball concessions building from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays.

“It’s primarily for underserved children in Powell, … but it’s open to all children,” said Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Terry Odom, who expects roughly 200 kids will be fed each day.

The free lunches are part of a federally funded/Wyoming Department of Education-run effort called the Summer Food Service Program. It basically extends the free or reduced meal programs that are provided during the school year into the summer months.

“Just as learning does not end when school lets out, neither does the need for good nutrition,” explains the Department of Education’s website.

Getting a free lunch this summer is not as formal as signing up for the nutrition assistance programs offered during the school year.

“We’re not going to turn anyone away, and we don’t ask, ‘Oh, are you on a reduced meal plan at school?’ We just feed them,” Odom said. Parents can also buy a meal at a reduced rate, because “we wouldn’t want them to wait somewhere while their child has a meal,” she said.

The lunches are being provided in conjunction with the Powell Recreation District’s Kid’s Camp and district staff will supervise the lunches. Intended for children ages 5-9, the camp carries a charge of $31 per week for half-days or $64 for full days. However, any children under the age of 18 are welcome to join for lunch.

“They don’t even have to be in that [Kid’s Camp] program,” explained Colby Stenerson, executive director of the Powell Recreation District. He does ask that people planning to attend lunch contact the district in advance at 754-5711 “so we can let the hospital know how many lunches we’ll need.”

Stenerson added that the district is “really excited” about partnering with PVHC on the Summer Food Service Program; Powell had been among just a handful of Wyoming communities without one.

R.J. Kost, the curriculum coordinator for Park County School District No. 1, said he and other school officials wanted to get involved with the program for years.

However, “we’ve never been able to develop anything through the school system that would work, because ... getting somebody that would work so few hours to prepare something in the summertime, when we don’t have anyone else there, made it really difficult,” he said.

As an alternative, Kost — who’s the president of the Powell Valley Healthcare Board — suggested PVHC get involved, since the organization already provides meals throughout the summer to the patients, staff and long-term residents it serves.

“They [PVHC] decided it would be a great opportunity to help the kids of the community out, as well as they could do it,” Kost said.

The healthcare organization ultimately determined it was an opportunity to build goodwill and a good partnership, Odom said, plus “we could already meet the requirements of being a designated site.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay for the food, up to $3.92 per meal. But Odom said PVHC will need to rely on volunteers — including the organization’s own employees, the Powell Medical Foundation and some local churches — to prep the food and bring it to Homesteader Park.

“I think we’re going to have enough volunteers just by good word of mouth and our own employees,” Odom said, but anyone interested in helping is asked to call 754-1276.

They may seek the aid of an AmeriCorps VISTA member next year.

Odom has high hopes for how the program could expand next summer — possibly adding breakfasts or having children come to the Powell Valley Care Center and involving the center’s residents.

“I think it’s going to be good [for the kids] and we’ll see how it goes this year,” she said. “Because we want to grow the program.”

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