Summer Food Service Program offers free meals for Evanston youth while building community

Yvonne Kim, Reporter

The annual Summer Food Service Program is now in its second week of offering free breakfast and lunch on weekdays for youth at various locations such as schools and community centers throughout Evanston.

The program, funded by the Illinois State Board of Education, has been in place for more than 20 years and serves about 1000 children daily, said Martin Mancera, a program supervisor.

Offering these meals can be helpful for low-income or struggling families, said Christine Hurt, a program employee.

“It helps a lot for the kids that don’t have anything to do in the summer,” Hurt said. “Some kids might not have enough food to eat, and I think this is a great opportunity for the kids to at least get a meal.”

Betsy Jenkins, a program supervisor, said the food service program also helps close the gap for working parents of students who usually receive school-subsidized meals during the academic year.

However, the program’s benefits extend beyond low-income Evanston residents. There are no income or residency checks for those who wish to obtain a meal, according to a press release from the city, and the program serves a wide range of people in the area.

“People think the lunches are for poor people,” Mancera said. “Evanston does have poor people or struggling mothers or families with low income … but it all depends on the person. … If you’re at the park and you’re with your children, you can enjoy lunch with us.”

Mancera added that gathering such a large number of children in public places can even attract other community activities, such as the library coming out to do arts and crafts projects.

“You may have a situation where you have someone that can really provide for their family sitting next to someone that really cannot,” Jenkins said. “It really builds that bridge. … Here at Evanston, everyone works with everybody else in trying to meet the needs of those that cannot do (so) for themselves.”

Evanston resident and mother Jessica Ponce, 21, who used to receive meals herself as a student, said the program can help bring families together.

“It makes me proud of the community that Evanston is,” she said. “I know that they don’t have stuff like this everywhere. … Whether we came here or not, I would find a way to feed (my children), but I know there are other parents that might not do that.”

The program will run through August 12.

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