Boys and Girls Club serves up free summer meals in Murray

Good eats • Single club serves nearly 400 healthy breakfasts, lunches daily.
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Murray • Breakfast and lunch times got lively this summer at the Boys and Girls Club of South Valley's Murray Unit.

As a participant in the Summer Food Service Program, the club has been able to provide breakfast and lunch to youth from June 5 to Aug. 24.

"We qualify as an open site, which means anyone from 1 to 18 years old can come eat breakfast and lunch for free," said Jaimie Dunn, child-care director at the Murray Club.

According to Dunn, the club serves about 400 meals a day, with lunch generating about double the number of kids who show up to breakfast.

The program is federally funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It seeks to maintain nutritional fitness for children as they hit the summer months and don't receive school lunches.

Dunn said because a great number of children in the club come from low-income families, they might not get three nutritional meals a day. More than 60 percent of the Murray Club's youth live below the poverty line.

"It's really an opportunity for a lot of the kids to get two full meals that they would not get otherwise," Dunn said.

The meals are offered to any youth regardless of participation in the club. Dunn said some parents who have one child enrolled in the club like to bring their other children as well.

"We're located right next to the Murray Park, and Parkside Elementary and Hillcrest Junior High are nearby, so as long as they know about the program, it's easily accessible," Dunn said.

The meals are catered by Vie Gourmet. The club has to pay the bills beforehand and then submit reports to get reimbursement.

"Not all the costs are always covered, but we wouldn't be able to service the kids the way we could without [the federal program]," Dunn said.

The program doesn't aim just to give meals to kids but also to provide healthy options in hot and cold food.

"Nothing is fried; everything is baked," Dunn said. "We do fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible and use wheat grain instead of white bread or white flour tortillas."

Dunn said the kids are used to eating lunch at schools, so a lot of them might not be aware of the quality of food, but it's important, nonetheless, to gear them toward eating healthy.

"It's a really positive thing," she said. "Even though they might not notice it, it's a substitute to what they're used to eating."

Even though the club has offered summer lunch in the past, the funding was so low this year that the staff members worried they would not be able to provide as much food.

"We had such a shortage of food because we didn't have the funding for the snacks," Dunn said.

With the federal program, the club could offer not only a full lunch, but also breakfast.

"When we were able to add the breakfast component, that was a huge deal," Dunn said. "It gives consistency. We can give a full breakfast instead of morning snacks that we sometimes offer."

LeMei Hamp, who is going into the fourth grade at Parkside Elementary, said she especially enjoys the meals because she likes eating healthy.

"I just like eating lunch and breakfast here because it's nice they provide food for us," she said.

Her job as a helper includes getting the food trays ready by placing them on the table and keeping the service area clean.

Heather Jackson, director of the juniors program, said serving healthy food is beneficial to the youth .

"I've seen the quality — it's been really great food," she said. "Sometimes I don't think kids always have the option, so it's extremely important for them."

With 99 percent of the participants coming from all over Murray, Dunn said it is a community affair. Sometimes the youth even show up early to eat breakfast, which is served between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.; club activities don't normally start until 10 a.m.

"There are times when we run out of meals," Dunn said. "We'll make things we have on hand. We'll feed anyone who comes no matter what."

Dunn said she's highly impressed looking at the numbers, such as the 7,000 meals served in the month of July.

"We're really grateful to the [federal program]," she said. "It's a huge accomplishment in my mind for the community."

As the summer winds to an end, the club is looking forward to extending the food services. Dunn said she hopes the Murray Club will qualify for an after-school meal program that would provide dinner to the children.

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Summer food service program

Murray Boys and Girls Club

Breakfast 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.; lunch noon to 1:30 p.m.

Free of charge to those under 18

Programs run June 5 to Aug. 24