Hungry Children Benefit from Jackson Food Program This Summer | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Hungry Children Benefit from Jackson Food Program This Summer

Children eat lunch at Blackburn Elementary School on June 23. The JPS Food Service Program provides the children with free meals.

Children eat lunch at Blackburn Elementary School on June 23. The JPS Food Service Program provides the children with free meals. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— The Jackson Public School District is out for the summer with kids spending time at home. The halls of the schools are quiet. The chairs are stacked up against the walls. The cafeterias and food assembly lines, however, will remain open for hungry kids this summer.

For the 26th consecutive year, the Summer Foods Services Program, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture funds, will serve more than 3,000 kids a day at the 12 sites in the Jackson area and school district.

"The whole purpose is to make sure that our students, our children in the city of Jackson still have a well-balanced meal during the summer months," Executive Director of Food Services Mary Hill said.

The food assembly lines, which are covered in fresh fruit decorations, reflect the plan, which teaches children how to portion their food and make healthy choices.

Hill said her managers and food workers try to educate kids as they serve them.

Any child under the age of 18 is eligible to receive a meal from the program. Hill said she will serve any child who meets the age requirement.

"We're feeding children between the ages 0 and 18," Hill said. "We don't ask any questions. As long as they meet the age requirement, USDA says, we are here to provide meals."

A typical meal for the summer meal plan includes an entree, fruit, vegetable and milk. "We try to encourage them to eat right," Hill said.

Food Manager Deborah Vaughn says she loves her job and seeing the kids with big smiles when they enter the cafeteria to eat. "I just love the kids," Vaughn said. "They come in the door and we make sure we're smiling and they're happy."

Vaughn said both the workers and the kids enjoy each other's company.

The group tries to spread the word about the program so children know they can get good meals through the summer. "We look at this as an excellent opportunity for the middle of the day to make sure they at least have one meal that we provide through the school district," Hill said.

The food service program in Mississippi partners with Magnolia Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene Corporation, which serves Medicaid beneficiaries in Mississippi. The plan is in every school district.

Magnolia Health provides reading materials related to health and nutrition. "We're very involved in nutrition," Magnolia Health Community Relations Representative Cheryl Smith said. "Nutrition is one of the reasons why we decided to partner with them (school district)."

Smith said the summer program is extremely important, especially for working families, because it guarantees a meal for a child. At the same time, they are cognizant of the state's high obesity rate, which is exacerbated by unhealthy food choices and fast food.

"What we're doing is we are trying to promote 'My plate' and help kids learn proper portion sizes," Smith said.

"Children need balanced meals not only during the summer months but during the school year, and we are a firm believer in the piece of the pie that we contribute to the educational structure of our school district," Hill added.

The food services program serves a meal Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the 12 school sites, which are Blackburn Middle School, Clausell Elementary School, Hardy Middle School, Key Elementary School, Lake Elementary School, Lanier High School, McWillie Elementary, North Jackson Elementary School, Powell Middle School, Rowan Middle School, Walton Elementary and Woodville Heights Elementary School.

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