As lunchtime began Tuesday for participants of the Summer Playground Program at the Glass Recreation Center, tiny hands gladly scooped up oranges, milk, sandwiches and other healthy items.
“It tastes pretty good,” said Khelci Lacy, 10, of Tyler.
The center is one of about 50 sites throughout the region where the East Texas Food Bank is offering its Summer Food Program, which allows children to receive nutritious meals at no cost.
CEO of the East Texas Food Bank, Dennis Cullinane, said the program can be especially helpful to children and families that are accustomed to accessing free or reduced-priced meals during the school year.
Many of the sites are at parks, playgrounds and places where children can take part in games and physical activities before having a healthy meal.
“Nutritionally, socially, physically — it really hits all those targets,” Cullinane said.
Children who are brought to the sites don’t have to register or provide proof of age or income. Meals and snacks also are available to those over age 18 who participate in school programs for students with disabilities.
The East Texas Food Bank purchases the food for the Summer Food Program. In addition, Donna Spann, the food bank’s chief development officer, said the Junior League of Tyler provides the organization with funds for the Summer Backpack Program, which provides children with food over the weekends and will begin soon.
A complete list of participating sites can be found at EastTexasFoodBank.org/SummerFood.
Cullinane said partnerships with the city of Tyler, local schools and other agencies and organizations make providing the program possible at each site.
“Each site is structured a little bit differently, as far as the activities that they have, but it really gets the kids together,” he said. “They have to eat the food while they’re there.
“It’s really an all-important program,” he said.