Free lunches for children coming to Round Lake Area Library
Kids and teens who visit the Round Lake Area Public Library this summer will find a new item on the menu with reading programs and other activities: free lunch.
Every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. beginning June 3, boxed cold lunches will be available to anyone 18 or younger who wants one. No tickets, registration, income verification or paperwork of any kind will be required.
"The kids are in need of it," said Edith Basir, head of volunteer services. "They get lunch at school but once school lets out, a lot of these kids go without food."
The program, which will run through Aug. 16, is offered in partnership with the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The main requirement for the library to become an eligible site is that more than 50 percent of students within a mile radius receive free or reduced lunches, according to Basir.
With 87 percent of its 7,300 students receiving free or reduced lunches, Round Lake Area Unit District 116 easily meets the criteria. But geography won't dictate who can have lunch.
"We're an open site," Basir explained. "We don't have any restriction on which community you come from."
Library officials had heard of the program but thought the logistics might be complicated and didn't pursue it. That changed last year after Basir received a postcard from the food bank saying no school means no lunch for many students.
"What's happening to these kids?" Basir said she asked herself. "I said, 'Why aren't we doing this at the library?'" she added. After checking into the details, Basir found the program could be operated with volunteers at minimal cost.
Northern Illinois Food Bank covers 13 counties and sponsors feeding sites under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Service Program administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Last year, more than 245,000 free summer meals (including from 17 library sites) were served to children in need, according to Elizabeth Gartman, communications manager. This year, the food bank will have 170 programs at 161 sites, including 30 in Lake County, she added.
Visit the USDA's capacity builder tool to find a site, or text 'food' or 'comida' to 877-877.
Meals are developed by the food bank's nutrition team, which, using available data, tries to incorporate culturally appropriate menu items, Gartman added. Lunches will be delivered fresh daily and at a minimum include a cup of milk, two ounces of meat, three-quarter cup of fruits and vegetables and a serving of grain.
"They're very healthy, nutritional meals. They're not getting chips and candy," Basir said.
She said the free lunches will pair well with its summer reading club, which averages about 700 participants.
"It's a good blend of things," she said. "We're going to have a busy summer."