The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department hopes to expand the reach of its summer lunch program to help serve more hungry kids throughout central Ohio.
Officials with the department say they also hope to fill service gaps on Columbus' South Side, Northland and Weinland Park, and in Obetz, Groveport, Canal Winchester and Pickerington.
"Once we start losing some sites in particular areas, those kids have nowhere to go," said Kay Snyder, who runs the summer food service program.
For example, the city lost one of its major destinations, the South Side Settlement House, in 2011.
However, the Schiller Recreation Center in German Village has been added to help pick up the slack, Snyder said. Also, Lazelle and Carriage Place -- on the Far North and Northwest sides, respectively -- will be used this year.
The largest sponsor of the program in central Ohio, recreation and parks operates 160 sites and serves more than 430,000 breakfasts and lunches to anyone age 18 and younger.
Snyder said the city and other local sponsors are serving about a third of the children who qualify under the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal initiative.
The city is also reaching out to children in apartment complexes who are unable to leave their residences for a variety of reasons.
Snyder said she has a roughly $2.2 million budget, most of which is reimbursed by the federal government. Columbus City Council also contributed $250,000 for marketing and expansion of the program.
"This money will give us an opportunity to enhance our marketing efforts along with the Ohio Hunger Alliance so we can make sure kids are getting healthy meals during the summer months," said Terri Leist, assistant director of the recreation and parks department.
"The funding will also allow us to think outside of the box in finding ways to get these meals to kids, whether that's through more sites or by bringing the food directly to the kids," Leist said.
The department invests $1.81 per meal and is reimbursed $1.94, with the remaining 13 cents going for administrative costs, which include other types of programming.
With fuel and food costs increasing, the pressure is on to stretch those dollars, Snyder said.
Many faith-based organizations in the suburbs, which find the program too costly and labor-intensive to do themselves, have approached recreation and parks officials about expanding, Snyder said.
"We are providing the monitoring, supervision and guidance to do the feeding program and we are getting them their food," she said.
For more information about how to become a feeding site or where to find one, call 614-645-3642.