Free summer lunch program continues

ESCANABA – A food program hosted by Escanaba Area Public Schools continues to provide a free and healthy meal to children in the Escanaba area this summer.

The Meet Up and Eat Up program held weekdays at the Escanaba Upper Elementary School began June 16, according to Escanaba Food Service Director Nancy LaFave.

“The State of Michigan every year reaches out to all the local communities and asks people that are willing to put on a summer feeding program,” she said of Meet Up and Eat Up. “In order to qualify, your school has to have 50 percent free or reduced lunch, which is by building. Our district is at 49 percent, but the Upper Elementary has over 50 percent.”

The Upper Elementary was chosen to host the district’s first year of the Meet Up and Eat Up program due to its central location in Escanaba.

“There is room in the future to expand to other schools in our district, but being our first year we wanted to take it slow and keep it small,” said LaFave.

All children 18 or under are invited for free lunches offered by the program Monday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Aug. 15 at the Upper Elementary. Children do not have to be from the Escanaba School District to take part and are eligible regardless of whether they qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year. Adults can also eat for $4 per meal.

The kitchen uses a two-week rotating menu of the most popular lunch meals for students during the school year, said LaFave. The menu is posted on the school district’s website, www.eskymos.com.

LaFave notes though the program requires them to keep track of the number of children served, they do not take down people’s names. The numbers recorded are later reported to the state and the district is reimbursed.

The first week of Meet Up and Eat Up averaged 12 children a day, but now between 30 to 35 are served daily. The highest number of children recorded this year was 67 kids who ate on pizza day.

“My goal was to keep on average about 35 kids, which we’re doing, and that’s spot-on for being a first-time program,” said LaFave. “If we can maintain those numbers throughout the summer….we will do it again next summer.”

According to an online map of the Michigan Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program, Meet Up and Eat Up programs are also being held at the Hannahville Youth Services Center in Hannahville, the Schoolcraft County Fairgrounds in Manistique, and both the YMCA and DAR Boys & Girls Club in Menominee.

To view additional locations throughout the state, visit www.mcgi.state.mi.us/schoolnutrition.