Rory Taylor, U.S. Navy petty officer second class, volunteers at Crescent Harbor Elementary June 29, where he assembles and distributes free sack lunches for children 18-and-under for Oak Harbor Public Schools’ summer lunch program. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

Program feeding children during summer months

Kids of all ages ran around Crescent Harbor Elementary’s playground June 29, jumping, laughing and playing under the summer sun.

And, thanks to Oak Harbor Public Schools, these children won’t go hungry.

Each summer, Oak Harbor Public Schools offers free lunches at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, at five locations throughout Oak Harbor.

“We serve any kid 18-and-under for lunch every day,” said Wendy Nienhuis, district kitchen supervisor. “Last year, we served over 10,000 meals and, at the rate we’re going here, we’re hoping to serve 13,000 this year.”

Nienhuis said the program plans to serve 400 meals a day, calling it a realistic goal. For instance, the program fed about 300 children on June 28, which was a cloudy day. Sunny days attract more people, she said, ranging between 350 and 400 kids.

The goal of 13,000 meals over the program’s 44 days is also within reach, Nienhuis said.

“If we did 400 a day, we would serve 17,000,” she said, providing a conservative estimate.

“We will see what the summer brings, because even if we did 350 a day, that would be 15,000 — a lot of meals from our little program.”

Also, according to Ken Harrison, food service director for the district, last week was the program’s first week, seeing an average of 320 lunches a day.

If that number holds true, then the district will have served over 14,000 free lunches this summer.

Free lunch sites include Crescent Harbor Elementary, Flintstone Park, Roller Barn, Their Place Children’s Center and Victory Terrace.

“Kids come out, they can play at the playground, be outside, run around and they get a lunch ready to go,” Nienhuis said, adding that the kids are given the lunches in paper sacks for ease of transport.

While the school district provides all the food and supplies, the program runs on volunteers from the community. Spin Cafe, for one, operates the site at Flintstone Park all summer.

Other volunteers include civilians and Navy personnel.

When William Vasco, petty officer third class, showed up to his first day at the program, he said it was really hectic at first, but then he and his fellow volunteers found a rhythm. For Vasco, the whole experience “felt good to give to the kids that need food.”

Rory Taylor, petty officer second class, agreed with Vasco.

“It’s pretty rewarding to be able to help out in the community and kind of make an impact with these little kids … they need love too.” Taylor said.

As far as Nienhuis is concerned, the free-lunch program does so much good that it should expand to even more locations.

“I think this is a great program,” Nienhuis said. “It keeps us in touch with the kids for the summer, keeps them eating during the summer, it’s good nutrition and they’re getting all their food groups.

“I’d really like to see it grow more and get some more sites out there, maybe, so that we can touch other areas in the community, to feed the kids there.”

This program is funded by the USDA.

Rory Taylor, U.S. Navy petty officer second class, hands a free sack lunch, complete with a corn dog, to a neighborhood girl June 29 at Crescent Harbor Elementary, one of Oak Harbor Public Schools’ five free lunch sites. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

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