To help ensure that children up to age 18 are eating, Peninsula Public Library has once again partnered with Long Island Cares to provide free meals to kids every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. through Sept. 1.
The library started the program last year, serving breakfast. “I believe 75 percent of the public school population in this district is getting free or reduced-cost meals, and when school’s out there aren’t any of these meals,” said Perry Caponi, the library’s head of tech services, who volunteered to run the program, called Summer Meals For Kids.
The National Hunger Hotline reports that 70.1 percent of children in New York state who receive free or reduced-cost meals during the school year do not eat as well during the summer, which is particularly unhealthy because people use more energy and trying to stay cool.
This year the program offers brunch, because breakfast proved too early for many parents, Caponi said. PPL is also hoping to offer more substantial meals. “We’re just having some trouble getting the vendors to provide kosher meals,” Caponi explained.
All of the meals include three items. On the first day, July 5, Froot Loops, milk and fruit cup were served. One boy said he loved the cereal, but could have done without the fruit.
Around 10 children attended the first day. “The [Five Towns] Community Center usually brings the camp children over, but today was just their first day,” said library director Carolynn Matulewicz. “Last year we were serving about 30 to 40 children a day.”
Joanna Perez, who attended with her children, said she didn’t know about the program until this year. “I heard about it from the Number Four School,” she said. “My daughter’s teacher told me about it.”
Perez saw the program as not only as a free meal, but also as an opportunity for her kids to play and make friends. After the kids finished eating, volunteers handed out bubbles and a small ring toss. The children ran around the library lawn until a scraped knee and the discovery of a worm in the nearby garden halted the games briefly.
The program is dependent on volunteers such as Falyn Katzman, a college student studying public health. “I thought it was a good opportunity to help the community,” she said. “I just wanted to help out with the people who may not be able to afford meals.” She also said she enjoys watching the kids have fun.
All the children, including the campers, split time among eating, playing, using the library computers and iPads, and having a story read to them. “A lot of kids came,” said Matulewicz, “a lot of children we don’t really see at the library, so that was very nice … they got library cards.”
Serving a meal and having the children at the library is part of the effort to make the facility, at 280 Central Ave. in Lawrence, part of residents’ lives. “We want to be more of a community center. We want to be somewhere people in the community can go to get whatever they need,” Caponi said. “Everyone under 18 is welcome. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, we’re here to feed everyone.” She added that the program could feed up to 60 children.
Matulewicz said that people with special needs who are under 21 can also be served brunch. “We can’t serve adults, but we do have resources where we can … lead them if there are any families in need,” she said.
The program is sponsored by Long Island Cares, a nonprofit organization that strives to feed the hungry and end food insecurity. A total of 588 children were served breakfast last year at PPL, according to the organization. “[We are] absolutely happy with the results so far,” said Dr. Jessica Rosati, the Long Island Cares’ chief programs officer.
She added that believes the program will surpass last year’s total, and wants it to expand in 2018. “They could make it Monday through Friday, or they could start offering lunch and breakfast,” Rosati said. “The sky’s the limit.”