LAURINBURG — Every weekday since June 22, children living in McDuffie Village have been guaranteed a satisfying lunch under a square tent outfitted, with miniature folding chairs and milk crates, as a makeshift banquet hall.
According to volunteer Mitchell Cribb, who has volunteered with the Scotland County Summer Meals Program for three years, the McDuffie Village mobile site provides lunch to about 15 children each day. Volunteers are responsible for gathering donated food from local supermarkets each morning.
In the afternoon, Summer Meals delivers meals to 18 traditional sites at area summer programs, church camps, and other youth programs. The program also sets up “mobile sites” at McDuffie Village, Tara Village, and McIntosh Apartments, where on Wednesday children feasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese, applesauce, and milk.
Bringing her grandchildren to the McDuffie Village site, Margaret Blackmon spends the lunch hour supervising all of the children present, keeping an eye out for children sharing food or struggling to open a recalcitrant bag of animal crackers.
“They know Ms. Margaret,” Blackmon said, affirming that as a grandmother of eight she finds the free meal program both helpful and enjoyable.
“A lot of times, you don’t really know family situations and you don’t really know if a child had a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner, and just to be sure they have one is a good thing,” she said. “What is an hour of your time to see a child enjoy themselves? They can always enjoy themselves when they’re eating.”
Administered by the Restoring Hope Center, the program began in 2007 as a response to a perceived need in a community where nearly 80 percent of children attending public school qualify for free or reduced price meals. That percentage made the Scotland County Schools eligible for a federal program providing free breakfast and lunch to all students, which the school system joined in 2014.
The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and food is provided through the school system’s Child Nutrition Services and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
“Child Nutrition is able to provide hot meals from a central kitchen, and when we’re working through the food bank that is boxed meals like sandwiches and things like that,” said program coordinator Sharon Quick. “All of the meals meet the standard put out by the USDA.”
Summer Meals dispensed 17,000 meals over the course of its first summer, and peaked in 2014 at 27,000. In its final week this year, Summer Meals has provided more than 23,000 breakfasts and lunches.
“Each year is different depending upon the number of weeks you serve and the number of sites you have, but I feel like we’ve had a good year,” Quick said. “Of course we always want to do more because we want to reach as many kids as possible. Our goal is always to recruit more sites and be in more parts of the county so that the food will be accessible to even more kids.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.