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Organizations hope needs met with summer lunch program

Each year the United States Department of Agriculture provides free or low-cost lunches to millions of school children.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, last year, more than 43 percent of children in Ohio qualified for those free and reduced lunches.

In Lawrence County, the numbers are even higher.

Of the seven local school districts in the county, only Fairland stayed near the state statistic at 44.6 percent. The other six districts’ stats climbed, with as many as 62 percent of students needing lunch assistance during the regular school year.

With so many children needing meal assistance during the school year, local organizations are pulling together to provide support during summer months to any child that may be in need.

“I worry about my children being fed in the summer,” said Harriette Ramsey of her students at Burlington Elementary School. “That’s always been a worry of mine.”

Ramsey is the librarian at the school and said she knows the need is great for children at her school to have access to lunches in the summer.

In 2011, Burlington Elementary topped the ODE’s list for the South Point district with nearly 70 percent of students needing the free or reduced meal options.

Ramsey set out to find a solution and was put into contact with the Community Action Organization of Scioto County since no other organization in Lawrence County had coordinated a comprehensive plan for summer meals this year.

Luckily, the Scioto CAO was already working to expand its Summer Food Service Program for Children into Lawrence County.

Luanne Valentine, operations director of the employment and training department at the Scioto CAO, has been coordinating the program in Scioto County since 1993 and said this will be the first year to bring the meals to Lawrence County children.

Valentine said it was the Children’s Hunger Alliance of Ohio who first contacted her and asked if the organization could expand its growing program.

Charlie Kozlesky, senior vice president of child nutrition programs for the Children’s Hunger Alliance, said the statewide organization recently added a southeast Ohio board of directors, which was instrumental in finding locations in Lawrence County to host summer breakfasts and lunches.

“To get a new sponsor is very difficult right up front,” Kozlesky said. “…We know summer feeding is very important and time consuming.”

This year, Valentine said there will be nine locations in Lawrence County where children ages 1 to 18 can come for a free meal. Sites will serve breakfast or lunch and some will serve both.

Funded by the USDA, meals will be prepared in the Ironton High School cafeteria and be delivered to the other sites by the employment training department of the Ironton-Lawrence County CAO.

Valentine said she estimated 400 meals will be served each day for the nine-week program. In Scioto County last year, 40,000 breakfast and/or lunchtime meals were served to children during that timeframe.

“The goal is to keep our young people happy and healthy,” Valentine said. “And if they are hungry, they aren’t happy and they aren’t healthy.”

Kozlesky said children who want to participate in the summer lunch program do not have to register or prove financial need.

“They just have to show up,” he said.

Most of the Lawrence County locations begin serving meals Monday and run through Aug. 3. A location at Rock Hill Middle School begins June 18. No meals will be served July 4 at any site.

For more information about the lunch program, call (740) 354-7541.

Ramsey encouraged people interested in volunteering at the Concerned Citizens of Burlington-sponsored site to contact her at (740) 894-3556 or stop by Burlington Commons Park during the serving time.