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50th summer meals program kicks off in Rensselaer County

Rensselaer County is kicking off the 50th year of its summer meals program.

Speaking outside the Martin Luther King Apartments in Troy Monday, County Executive Steve McLaughlin says there are 17 Summer Food Service Program meal sites throughout the county.

“For many of them, it might be their only real meal of the day, and that's something we fight all the time to make that not be the case. But we do know the reality here that for a lot of these kids, they rely on this program, and we're happy to be a part of that. All throughout the county, I was just looking there was in 2023, 40,736 meals in a 10-week program is pretty amazing,” McLaughlin said.

In addition to the meals program, parents of eligible children are also provided a one-time $120-per-child summer EBT food benefits credit.

United Way of the Greater Capital Region president and CEO Peter Gannon, one of the program supporters, says the sites are more than just a spot to grab a meal.

“Last year, 61 percent of our sites across the Capital Region had additional activities to reduce stigma, get kids excited about coming back and having that nutritious meal, which is especially hard once you get to be 11, 12, 13, 14, years old, when you need that nutrition the most,” Gannon said.

Gannon adds he’s planning to include more STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics — based activities this year.

Troy Mayor Carmella Mantello agrees- the program is good for children.

“It provides that safe space. And you know, anything we can do to keep our kids off the streets during the summer, active and healthy with good nutrition, that's key, and that's important,” Mantello said.

CDPHP President and CEO Brian O’Grady is a member of United Way’s board of directors. He says access to nutritious food shouldn’t stop when school lets out.

“So we want to make sure that the children who rely in the school for this further meals also have access to these nutritious meals, and to top it off, activities to keep themselves engaged and active during the summer months, when school is out, when they're looking for things to do and looking for ways to stay engaged and continue to be part of a community,” O'Grady said.

Roseanne Luvisi is Senior Program Specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northeast Regional Office’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. She says nearly 30 million children and teens take part in the USDA’s breakfast and lunch program nationally during the school year.

“When school is out for the summer, young people lose access to those healthy meals, putting them at risk for hunger and making it harder to get the nutrition they need to learn and grow,” Luvisi said.

The summer EBT benefit is valid for four months.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.
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