Free summer breakfast/lunch program returns to MAPS on Monday

The Manistee Area Public Schools will once again be running the free summer breakfast and lunch program for children starting on Monday. Any child 18 years or younger can get a free meal through this USDA program that is run by the Michigan Department of Education. Adults accompanying children can eat for $3 and there are no financial income guidelines on the program for those who want to take part in it.

The Manistee Area Public Schools will once again be running the free summer breakfast and lunch program for children starting on Monday. Any child 18 years or younger can get a free meal through this USDA program that is run by the Michigan Department of Education. Adults accompanying children can eat for $3 and there are no financial income guidelines on the program for those who want to take part in it.

MANISTEE — The reality of today’s busy world is many times children don’t always get the opportunity to eat a nutritious breakfast or lunch during the summer months when school is out of session.

Most food service coordinators realize that during the the course of a school year there are students who rely heavily on schools to provide them with the necessary food to get through the day. It was one of the reasons that 12 years ago Manistee Area Public Schools Food Service Director Kathy Gutowski started running the free summer food service program.

This United States Department of Agriculture program, which is run through the Michigan Department of Education, gives any child 18 years of age and younger the opportunity to enjoy a free breakfast or lunch for most of the summer. It is not based on income and children from any walk of life can obtain a free breakfast or lunch. If parents come with the children, they can purchase a lunch for $3.

Gutowski said they don’t even have to live in Manistee County. The children can be visiting family in Manistee or just passing through the area and still get a free breakfast and lunch.

“One thing we are required to do under USDA guidelines is we can’t let any adults eat off their child’s tray if they can’t finish it,” said Gutowski. “We realize it is a waste of food, but we have to follow their guidelines and they prohibit that from taking place.”

The program begins on Monday at the Manistee High/Middle School with breakfast and lunch. The breakfast program runs from 8:30 to 9 a.m. and lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

“We are going to run it a little longer this year and if we have good participation are going to go to the second week of August,” said Gutowski. “We are really excited about that and hope we can do it.”

Gutowski said that the program will run five days a week for the first several weeks and then switch to a Monday to Thursday format on July 14.  However, she said what has allowed them to keep the program going this long is the participation and support of the community, because if the numbers decrease the program will stop.

“People should be aware that we will not be serving on July 3 or 4,” she said.

Jefferson Elementary School will have food sent one day a week for students taking part in their reading program that runs this summer.

“One of the benefits of our summer lunch program is the natural support and draw it has to our other offerings,” said Jefferson Elementary Principal Andy Huber. “Having students able to get a free lunch after a sports camp, summer credit recovery, and our Read ‘N Play is one more way to keep them involved in positive activities. The Huber kids are regulars, and I would hope that all families in Manistee would help support the initiative by coming out for the only true free lunch I know.”

Gutowski said they have added benefits for the reading day.

 “We are doing the kids’ favorites on Wednesdays as the first day we are doing soft shell tacos and after that we doing hot dogs the next week which are always well received. We are doing a yogurt plate that includes a piece of full grain or banana bread and a six ounce yougurt. What we will also have is that full fruit and salad bar with that meal too.”

Besides the different daily entrees, students have the alternate choice of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a deli sandwich or the yogurt plate. The fruit and veggie bar includes fresh and canned fruit, fresh and steamed vegetables, romaine salad mix, garbanzo beans and local produce.

Gutowski said they also strive hard to buy from local growers for their lunch program.

“Cherry Foods out of Traverse city also has a new food specialist; and she is working hard to bring in some different things,” she said. “They are also a part of that farm to freezer program, so that will be good too.”

Manistee Middle School principal Jason Traviss said the summer breakfast and lunch program is always a big success.

“What I like about the summer lunch program is it does bring students to the program even if they wouldn’t normally be coming to the building,” he said. “It is great for our summer school kids for our athletes, but to see families, day cares and things like that — it is nice to know they have something like this that they can come to get a good meal.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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