The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department has added five pilot sites to the hundreds in its summer Go, Lunch! program.
Amanda Wampler, outreach manager for the department, said the idea is to increase participation and retention for participants, who might be among the one in four children in Franklin County suffering from poverty.
The program will run weekdays from Monday, June 11, to Aug. 10. Lunches will be served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, with the exception of July 4.
Meals are open and free to anyone ages 1 to 18 years old. Neither identification nor parental supervision is required.
Pork and peanut butter will not be served at Go, Lunch! sites. An example of a meal to be served this summer would be chickpea tacos, salad, fruit, milk and a grain.
Wampler said the program has 300 lunch sites, mostly in Franklin County, 220 of which are operated by the recreation and parks department with the help of more than 40 partner organizations, such as Columbus City Schools, the YMCA of Central Ohio and churches. The new pilot sites are at Beatty Park/Trevitt, East Columbus, Livingston, Wedgewood and Weinland Park elementary schools.
The department's Strawberry Food Truck also will make surprise visits to sites this summer, she said.
Wampler said many other activities are associated with the lunch program, including nutritional classes, behavioral-health assistance and lessons in conservation.
"There are so many other components that are equally important, so it's not just all about the food," she said.
The meals are reimbursable by federal funding through a program run by the Ohio Department of Education.
Columbus was reimbursed $2 million for last year's program, but it incurred $57,000 worth of costs for meals that were uneaten or fed to adults, said Julie Pruett, food-office coordinator for the recreation and parks department.
The Children's Hunger Alliance, which provides after-school meals for the recreation and parks department, is a partner on the Go, Lunch! program.
Shannon Amos, senior director of agency programs at the alliance, said the program served 543,000 meals last year.
"It does seem like a lot but the need is there," Amos said. "We're trying to get as many kiddos access in the summer as a we can, but I think it could be more."
To sign up or learn more about the Go, Lunch! program, go to www.golunch.club.