The small grassy area behind Umatilla-Morrow Head Start office in Hermiston slowly filled on Wednesday afternoon, as children and parents lined up for the summer lunch program.
The free program, which runs weekdays from June 11 to Aug. 10, offers daily meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for kids of all ages, and has developed into a place where children can find a nutritious meal and enjoy a variety of games and lessons.
“It’s fun stuff and good eats,” said Alea Garrett, a middle schooler who has come to the program with her mom and siblings since last summer.
Her mother, Melissa Garrett, said the activities were her children’s favorite part of the day, and that she was pleased with the variety of meals offered.
Toni Eddy, UMCHS children’s nutrition manager, said they try to vary the daily menu. One day this week they served tuna salad sandwiches, and another there were crunchy Hawaiian chicken wraps. Each day they also serve fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.
“It meets a need financially for the parents, and nutritionally for the kids,” Eddy said.
She said the program has been active for at least five years, and that all free meal programs in the area help fill a need during the summer.
“We have a high number of children who qualify for free and reduced lunch,” she said. “Parents have to figure out how to make their limited income stretch over meals the kids would normally get at school. These programs help supplement their budget, help them cover other bills, make food stamps last through the month.”
Eddy said participation has varied, but they averaged about 50 meals per day last year. They are able to serve 100 per day. Meals that aren’t served are kept for a day, and then donated to Desert Rose Ministries.
Meals are offered to any child age 1-18. Meals are not offered to adults, but many parents will bring a lunch of their own and sit with their child. Eddy said if adults volunteer at the program, helping to set up or clean, they can also get a meal.
Many local lunch programs also offer daily activities and services for kids and their families. On Wednesday, UMCHS had a painting activity for kids, and Advantage Dental was doing free screenings and fluoride coatings for children and adults on-site.
Eddy said programs range from arts and crafts to physical activities, and speakers and visitors from the community.
“It’s not only a nutritious meal, but an activity to help with cognitive development,” she said.
Umatilla School District also has an extensive summer meal program. Because of construction at the elementary and middle schools they are limited to one kitchen, but the district will offer both breakfast and lunch to students at several different sites. Parents can also purchase a meal for $2.
Rikkilynn Larsen, the child nutrition director, said she hopes to expand the program to include dinner later in the summer, as they did last year.
Larsen said based on last year’s numbers, they’re planning to serve about 500 per day. She said each meal will feature a hot and cold option, as well as local fruits and vegetables when possible.
They will also have daily activities including basketball and hula hoops, as well as art projects, small gardening projects and scavenger hunts.
Larsen said she posts the menus daily on the district website, as well as on Facebook.
Almost every school district or city has some sort of free lunch program for students. Below is a list of the summer meal options for kids and families around Umatilla County:
*Families can look up meal locations statewide by calling 2-1-1, texting “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877, or visiting summerfoodoregon.org/map.
Athena: June 11-Aug. 24 (excluding July 4), 12 to 12:30 p.m. Athena City Park. For kids ages 1-18.
Echo: July 9 to August 2, Monday - Thursday from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Echo School, 600 E. Gerone St.
Hermiston: June 11 to June 22 at Armand Larive, 1497 S.W. Ninth St., and Hermiston High School, 600 S. First St.
June 12 to 29 at Sunset Elementary School, 300 E. Catherine Ave. Breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
June 11 - Aug. 10 at Umatilla-Morrow Head Start, 110 N.E. Fourth Street, . 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Pendleton: June 11 to August 17 at Pendleton Early Learning Center, 455 SW 13th St., breakfast 9 to 9:30 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
June 11 to July 5 at Washington Elementary School, 1205 S.E. Byers Ave., breakfast 8:30 to 9 a.m., lunch 12 to 12:30 p.m.
Stanfield: June 11 to July 19, 12 to 12:15 p.m., Stanfield Public Library, 180 W. Coe Ave.
Umatilla: June 18 to August 17 (excluding July 4)
Breakfast 8 to 9 a.m. at Umatilla High School, 1400 Seventh Street. Lunch at Umatilla High School and at Marina Park, 1710 Quincy Ave., from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. At Kiwanis Park, 129 Walla Walla St., from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Weston: June 11-Aug. 24 (excluding July 4), 12 to 12:30 p.m. Weston City Park. For kids ages 1-18.