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updated: 5/28/2013 4:54 AM

Summer meals programs to serve suburban kids

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As school winds down for suburban students, summer meal programs are gearing up.

More than two dozen sites across six suburban counties will serve free meals open to all children during the summer, the Northern Illinois Food Bank announced. Other sites will provide summer meals for children who are affiliated with the hosting organization.

The goal of the program is to fill the gap for students who get free or reduced-price lunches at their schools during the academic year but might go hungry while school is out of session.

Donna Lake, communications director at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, said nearly 200,000 young people in northern Illinois face hunger.

"These children don't always know when their next meal will be," Lake said. "These programs are critical to ensuring children have the nutrition they need over the summer."

The summer program officially runs from June 3 through Aug. 24, but certain sites will open and end on different dates depending on the school schedules in their communities.

Many sites offer breakfast and lunch to children up to age 18, while some provide one meal and a snack.

The Salvation Army in Elgin is participating in the Summer Food Service Program. Liza Ayala, a case manager, said as many as 50 children show up for lunch each day, depending on the weather. Many of them are from families that benefit from the Salvation Army's Friday food distribution program.

"It's a good thing we're here," Ayala said. "The parents are used to the kids getting free lunch at school and now they have to come up with an extra meal to feed them."

Ayala said parents often come with their children for the summer lunches to sit with them while they eat.

Katie Kowalczyk, child nutrition program specialist at Northern Illinois Food Bank, said organizers hope to reach more than 6,500 kids this summer with meals at about 80 sites.

For details about when sites start serving and which meals are offered, call Kowalczyk at (630) 443-6910 or contact the organizations providing the meals.

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