Longstanding Summer Meals for Kids Program Fills Critical Need to Prevent Childhood Hunger

Childhood Hunger

For 21 years, The Open Door Summer Meals for Kids program has ensured that even after the school year ends, local children have access to nutritious meals. As families continue to navigate hardship brought on and worsened by the economic ramifications of COVID-19, the program has become even more critical to prevent childhood hunger locally. 

Feeding America estimates the pandemic has resulted in a 117% increase in childhood food insecurity in Eastern Massachusetts. Last summer, only months into the pandemic, The Open Door Summer Meals Program distributed approximately 39,000 meals—a FIVE-FOLD increase over pre-pandemic norms. 

“Schools play an essential role in providing breakfast and lunch meals for children during the school year, and our Summer Meals for Kids program strives to fill that gap over the summertime so no child in our service area goes hungry,” said Julie LaFontaine, The Open Door President and CEO. “The pandemic has made this program more vital for our families here on the North Shore. Our staff and interns have gone above and beyond to make the daily meal deliveries special. We’re proud to continue this program, and thankful for a community that supports and values feeding children.” 

The Open Door Summer Meals for Kids program began this year on June 17, and serves 11 sites, including Riverdale Park; Willowood Gardens; Pond View Village; the district-wide summer programs at West Parish Elementary, Beeman Elementary, O’Maley Innovation Middle, and Gloucester High Schools; Camp Spindrift; and Winthrop Elementary School in Ipswich, as well as The Open Door food pantries based in Gloucester (on Emerson Avenue) and Ipswich (Southern Heights in Ipswich). 

Monday through Friday, The Open Door Summer Meals team packages, delivers and, for select sites and special events, serves and distributes meals—both breakfast and lunch — to local children. On Fridays, the group delivers enough meals to keep children fed through the weekend, ultimately providing meals seven days a week.

Summer Meals assembly
From left: Interns Eileen, Lucy and Kam serve pizza to students at a pizza party along with Summer Meals for Kids Program Coordinator Kayla.

Summer Meals for Kids meets children where they are, ensuring local youth have access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch through the summer. Meals are delivered to schools and summer programs, but also directly to neighborhoods and playground areas where a need has been identified. 

“The Open Door Summer Meals program is special because it lets kids know they’re cared for by the community,” said Kayla Mayo, Summer Meals Coordinator. “We (The Open Door) essentially take over when the schools close to provide meals in the summer, and the interns have formed summer-long  relationships with the kids. It makes the kids feel really special, and the interns look forward to seeing them every day too.” 

At neighborhood delivery sites, like Willowood Gardens in Gloucester, The Open Door Summer Meals interns have developed a strong rapport with children and extend their daily visits to playground games like tag, basketball, hopscotch and more.  

“”I’ve lived in Gloucester my whole life, and this internship has been eye-opening for me to see the impact of this program, in the city I grew up in,” said Lucy Garberg, an intern for the Summer Meals for Kids program this summer. 

Like all the programs of The Open Door, Summer Meals for Kids relies on diverse funding so that its success is not dependent on one donor or source. Along with partial reimbursement from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the program was awarded grants from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Project Bread to support program set-up, the hiring of an intern, marketing materials and transportation. This year’s Empty Bowl To Go provided support from the community, plus additional donations, made up the balance of the program to ensure no child in the greater Cape Ann area goes hungry.   

Program highlights provided by The Open Door beyond daily meal service include special events like a pizza party held at West Parish School during the Gloucester Public School Summer Program. 

Before school starts in September, Summer Meals for Kids distributes school supplies donated from community partners or purchased wholesale from donations to local children and an ice cream social event (along with their regular breakfast and lunch meals) to celebrate the end-of-summer. 

Summer Meals for Kids interns
From left: Interns Lucy, Eileen, Elena, Coordinator Kayla and Intern Kam.

This summer, the program has operated with four paid interns under the direction of Coordinator Mayo. The interns, an integral part of the annual program, are responsible for various duties including outreach, packaging meals, delivering meals to sites, monitoring the temperature of meals for safe consumption, and distributing meals upon arrival.  

“The Open Door team has been very helpful bringing meals in every day. Kayla (Summer Meals Coordinator) and Nora (The Open Door Executive Chef) have been very accommodating of student allergy needs and providing grab and go meals,” said Greg Santos, Gloucester Public Schools Summer Program Director. “Lucy and Elena (The Open Door Summer Interns) have been wonderful with the kids as well—they always have a smile on their faces. They’re kind of our unsung heroes here for lunch.” 

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