Program offers free midday meals for children

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — Just days after the official start of summer vacation, the only thing capable of enticing a rowdy group of children to McLaurin Elementary School Thursday was cheesy nachos and chocolate milk.

Thursday marked the third day of the Natchez-Adams School District’s Summer Feeding Program, which allows any child under age 18 in Natchez to receive free lunch in June.

Seventh grader Ashanti White helped himself to apple juice, nachos, a banana and two cartons of chocolate milk. White has enjoyed a free meal each day since the program started Tuesday. The program ends June 30.

“It’s good,” White said of his helping of corn chips, ground beef and melted cheese. “Pizza is my favorite.”

McLaurin Food Service Manager Brenda Bath said although the children enjoy the meals, the staff makes sure each child’s meal is balanced with at least three of the major five food groups.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., children file through the lunch line at McLaurin, Frazier Primary, Natchez High, West Primary, Broadmoor Community Center and the Margaret Martin gym.

Adults can also purchase meals for $3.25.

While noisy children talked to their friends at one end of a crowded cafeteria table with mouths full of food, Alice Hunt reverently closed her eyes and bent her head over a Styrofoam tray to give quiet thanks for her lunch.

Hunt, who came with her granddaughter and great-grandson, said the service provides a great way for working parents to get their children fed in the summer months, when the children are too young to know how to use the kitchen.

Large carpools of children pulled in for lunch Thursday afternoon, and Bath said she was expecting a bus of children to roll in any minute. She said church groups and summer camp organizations often bring children to the cafeteria for free lunches.

Bath said more people came the second day than the first, most likely due to word-of-mouth. She said she assumes that more families don’t take advantage of the program because they don’t know about it, but she expects the number of hungry kids to pick up fast.

Bath said approximately 75 children were served lunch at McLaurin Thursday, but she expects to serve up to 600 children next week with the start of summer camps.