Free summer meals for kids at Dundee Park

51

WINDHAM — The Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program is offering free lunch this summer at Dundee Park for any kids under 18.

Kids from any town can come to the park for the free lunches, but free park passes through the program are available only to Windam and Raymond families.

The free lunch project is a collaborative effort by the school district, Town of Windham, and the Westbrook School Nutrition Program and aims to provide free, healthy meals to kids, especially to those who may usually rely on school food throughout the year.

The program begins July 9 and runs through Aug. 17, with the free lunches being served between noon and 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays – but only on fair weather days.

RSU 14 Director of School Nutrition Jeanne Reilly said this is the third year that free summer lunches are being offered at Dundee Park.

Reilly said that the program is particularly aimed at  but not limited to students who receive free or reduced lunch during the school year, and noted that while school ends for the summer, “hunger doesn’t stop – those kids still need healthy meals.” The summer lunch program is a way to help ensure there is “no gap in their nutritional well-being,” she added.

In the past, the Dundee site has averaged about 20-25 meals at per day, according to Reilly, who says that those numbers don’t justify the district making meals themselves.

Instead, RSU 14 turns to the Westbrook Nutrition Program, which already makes summer meals for various sites around Westbrook.

“They already have staff, they’re already making meals,” Reilly said, adding that the Windham Raymond district transports the meals from Westbrook to Dundee Park.

RSU staff picks meals up in Westbrook and transport them to Dundee Park, and Reilly said that summer meal funding comes through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“The money comes from USDA,” Reilly said.

She said that the number of Windham-Raymond students who receive free or reduced lunch fluctuates around 33 to 37 percent of the district. Reilly, who previously worked as the nutrition director in the Westbrook School District, said Westbrook schools see closer to 60 percent of it students receiving free or reduced lunch and has a much bigger summer meals program.

Dundee Park wound up as the summer meal location for Windham and Raymond after several years of trial and error at other sites. Reilly said it has been difficult finding a centrally located, easily accessible site in the Windham area that lines up with USDA’s mapping requirements that determine what areas can qualify for a summer meal site based on various demographics.

Reilly acknowledged that transportation to the park, which hugs the Presumpscot River just off of River Road in Windham, can be an issue for kids and their families. But she said the park setting, combined with the availability of free park passes through the town for families using the free lunch service has helped bolster participation.

“We’re definitely seeing growth in this Dundee Park site,” she said, calling it a “great combination of nutrition and physical activity.”

She added that the park’s recreational opportunities “really helps because parents want activities for their kids in addition to summer meals.”

The town not only offers Dundee Park as a location for the meals to be served, but Reilly has free park passes for families that apply and demonstrate a need for the program.

Interested families can reach out to Reilly for a free park pass application at jreilly@rsu14.org. Park entrance fees are otherwise $5 for adults and $3 for kids from Windham, and $6 for adults and $4 for kids who are non-Windham residents.

“I still have plenty of passes,” Reilly said Tuesday.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Free summer meals will be available for any kids ages 18 and under at Dundee Park, off River Road in Windham, from July 9 through Aug. 17.

SHARE