Feeding America reports 1 in 9 children struggle with hunger in Massachusetts. And the 10-week stretch of summer vacation leaves many wondering where they’ll find their next meal.

Gloucester’s Open Door Summer Meals Program and the Salem Summer Eats program are working to help food-insecure children and their families.

The Open Door food pantry works to provide nutritional resources to children and families on Cape Ann during both the summer months and throughout the year.

For the past 17 years, Julie LaFontaine, executive director at The Open Door, says their free 10-week Summer Meals Program provides locally sourced, kid-friendly dishes for those under 18.

“The goal is to make sure kids eat and have a little bit of fun,” she says, adding how they’ve now hit the halfway point in the summer. “When it comes to good health, there’s nothing more basic than good nutrition."

The Open Door, in addition to other services it provides, prepares and delivers meals for the summer to 15 sites across Gloucester and Ipswich, serving primarily lunch and a few breakfasts and dinners. LaFontaine added that although attendance ramps up as the summer progresses, the program is not as utilized as it could be in the community.

“People are stretching to make ends meet,” she said. The food pantry and mobile market serves 1 in 6 Gloucester residents, she says.

 

“Food is the most basic of needs,” LaFontaine added. “The communities that rally around providing nutrition for people are really the heroes.”

Free meals in Salem

Kicking off its 16th year this July, Salem Summer Eats provides free breakfast, lunch and dinner for those 18 and under at eight locations across the city. On average, the program serves between 60 to 91 meals per day, says Deb Jeffers, food services director for the Salem Public Schools. Locations include the city's schools, public housing and the Point neighborhood, among other sites.

“Once school is out, kids are still hungry,” said Jeffers, who’s served as director for the last 11 years. “It’s a wonderful program offered for kids; without it, things would not be good.”

Serving up fresh fruit and produce from local farms, Jeffers says Summer Eats also provides activities for children to enjoy. She says their main goal aims to take away the stigma attached to those who struggle with hunger. 

“We’re trying to break down the barrier,” she added.

The most popular event, Plummer Youth Promise’s OnPoint Supper on the Grill, began several years ago as a way to reach teenagers, says Jeffers. Held Tuesday through Friday, the night serves up grilled chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers. Last year at the Plummer facility, Jeffers said the program served a total of 1,416 meals in 19 days, averaging about 75 per day.

Salem Summer Eats, which runs through Aug, 9, is funded by the Salem Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services and the city of Salem. Bass River Inc. sponsors lunch at the Salem Public Library.

Project Bread, a nonprofit based in Boston, partnered with the city and school district for the initiative.

Elizabeth Greenhalgh, Project Bread’s communications and development vice president, said Salem has a higher poverty rate than the national average. In the city’s public school system, 82% of students are eligible to receive free or reduced meals during the academic year.

“We have a lot of faith in the program there,” she said of Jeffers and the community partners in Salem. Across Project Bread’s 1,100 sites in Massachusetts, Greenhalgh added how Salem’s participation rate is 21%, which 8% higher than the state average.

 

To find the nearest summer meal site, visit www.meals4kids.org/summer.

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.

Summer eats locations*

 

Gloucester

Riverdale Park, 69 Veterans Way, June 19 to Aug. 23, Monday to Friday, lunch, 12:30 to 1 p.m.

Willowood Gardens, 40 Willowood Road, June 20 to Aug. 23, Monday to Friday, lunch, 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

The Open Door, 29 Emerson Ave., June 19 to Aug. 23, Tuesdays, dinner, 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Art Haven, 180B Main St., July 15 to 26, Monday to Friday, lunch, TBD

Ipswich

Ipswich Community Food Pantry, 00 Southern Heights, June 19 to Aug. 23, Tuesday to Thursday, lunch, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 

*In addition to the sites listed above, The Open Door also provides meals to kids enrolled at the Cape Ann YMCA's summer camps as well as students at school programs in Gloucester and Ipswich.

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