Montgomery County school system expands free summer lunch program -- Gazette.Net







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Alyssa Kwapong, 7, enjoyed lunch at Fox Chapel Elementary School in Germantown Friday even though school had been out for more than two weeks.

She was having a ham and cheese sandwich, her favorite, she said, along with fresh cut pineapple, apple juice and chocolate milk.

As the afternoon went on, more students arrived at the school cafeteria for lunch, all taking advantage of the Montgomery County Public Schools Summer Food Service Program. It’s a free lunch program for youths 18 and younger, offered at 115 sites throughout the county.

“We usually have about 40 students [per day],” Fox Chapel Principal Diana Zabetakis said. “The Food and Nutrition staff have been wonderful working in partnership with us to [meet] the basic needs of our students.”

This year, the Summer Lunch Program is expanding to include hot meals at some locations, said Marla Caplon, director of the Montgomery County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

Twenty-three Early Learning Opportunity Schools and 23 schools that are running highly populated summer programs will serve hot selections along with the traditional summer cold lunch, she said.

“Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation,” Caplon said.

Montgomery County Public Schools began serving summer lunches in 1976 and has added to the program every year.

“I wondered, what do [the students on free and reduced lunch] do in the summertime?” Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Dist 5) of Silver Spring said at a press conference at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring on Thursday.

So, she said, when she got on the council, expanding the summer lunch program was the first thing she did.

“There were federal dollars to access to pay for the meals,” she said.

Ervin was elected to the County Council in 2004 and before that, served a two-year term on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

“Every year, we add more [sites],” she said. “Which is astounding, because now we are in almost every neighborhood.”

Traditionally, the Summer Lunch Program was offered at sites with organized programs, where food services could anticipate the number of students who would be served.

But, in recent years the program has included walk-in sites, places where anyone 18 or younger could come in and eat a nutritious lunch. This year, Ervin said, she believes the program will feed about 10,000 students per day.

“Not all children are affiliated with an organized program,” Caplon said.

This year, there are eight walk-in sites that will operate from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Aug. 23. Reservations are not necessary, but all food must be consumed at the location.

Fox Chapel Elementary is a walk-in site. Zabetakis said a number of her staff are trained to work in the program and be there while the students have lunch. They also have student volunteers to read to the diners and have added a book exchange in which students can borrow books to take home to read.

She said lunch and reading in the summer help fill the gap between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next year.

For a list of schools offering the walk-in lunch program, visit