As youngsters walk through the kitchen at Zion Lutheran School in Marengo, they take a carton of milk.
Jill Bauman, the cook at the summer meal program in Marengo, then gives them a Styrofoam tray with a bag of carrots, a corn dog, a fruit cup and some string cheese.
“We try to make it different every day, and healthy, and a little bit of fun,” Bauman said.
Making sure those 18 and younger who receive a free or reduced lunch during the school year get at least one good meal daily during the summer can be difficult.
But there are places throughout the county that provide free breakfasts and lunches during summer when students aren’t able to head to the school cafeteria to get a good meal.
Under the state’s summer food service program, places that offer free meals can be reimbursed with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. Programs receive $3.47 per lunch that is served and $1.98 per breakfast meal served.
Those that sponsor a free lunch location need to be in an area where at least 50 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.
The number of youngsters who show up at Zion Lutheran’s program varies from day to day and can be affected by weather conditions, Bauman said.
Bauman, who works at Marengo Middle School as the food service director during the school year, knows how vital the free lunch can be for some children.
“I see kids at the middle school who I know when they get their lunch, that’s their meal for the day. They’re going home to probably not much to eat,” Bauman said. “That’s the case here, not as much as it is at the school. ... But to see that at school and know you’re providing them one good, solid meal a day, it’s just rewarding.”
At the Zion Lutheran Church program, anyone 18 and younger can come in during the summer for a free breakfast or lunch, no questions asked, said Sandee Dunker, the church’s early childhood director. The church serves the meals five days a week.
Last summer, the church served 5,869 free meals. Each meal has protein, a certain amount of fruits and vegetables and grains.
Children coming to get summer meals at Zion Lutheran do not have to sign up or pre-qualify. Dunker said some of the kids might be home alone, and this is a way to make sure they get fed lunch during the day.
“We don’t want anyone to go hungry,” Dunker said. “We believe it’s a good thing to do.
“It’s a service to our community that we think is very important.”
This year, the program started June 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
At Harvard District 50, the school district ran a free lunch program for any child during its summer school program. This year, it attracted about 60 kids per day, which is up from the 30 per day last year.
The district did its best to promote the program by placing fliers at the schools and posting them throughout the community, sending home notices with student report cards, and posting information on the district’s website.
Anyone can come, said Mary Taylor, the business manager for District 50. It also runs its program with federal funding.
In the district, 55 percent to 60 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.
“I think it gives these kids an opportunity to have a great breakfast and lunch,” Taylor said. “We know a lot ... of kids don’t eat three meals a day. It will help them out.”
Carpentersville District 300 also has seven of its schools offering free lunch to any child because those schools met state requirements.
At Zion Lutheran Church, Kelly Sergent, 35, of Marengo, brings her children, Hailey, 9, and Patrick, 6, three to four times a week to the free summer lunch program.
“All their friends come, so they get time to play with and talk to their friends,” Sergent said. “It’s very social for us.”
Sergent, whose kids are not part of the free lunch program during the school year, said having it in town is very important.
“There are a lot of families that do need the help to feed their children,” Sergent said. “I know some families come here for the social and the fun, but others they really do need the help.”
Free summer breakfast and lunch programs are offered at the following locations. Contact information is provided for those with questions.
• Zion Lutheran School, 408 E. Jackson St., Marengo. 815-568-5156. A menu calendar can be found at www.zionschool.net/ under the “Calendar” tab.
• Harvard District 50, visit www.cusd50.org/ and click on the “Summer Meals” link; 815-943-4022 for information.
• Carpentersville District 300, locations include Carpentersville Middle School, Dundee-Crown High School, Golfview Elementary, Lakewood School, Meadowdale Elementary, Parkview Elementary and Perry Elementary. Call Michelle Kovar at 847-551-8349 for information.