St. Vrain Valley Schools helps to fill summer food gaps

Families, child care providers and even a few adults without children gather during the week at Longmont's Rothrock Dell Park for a free meal dished up by the St. Vrain Valley School District.

About 100 people eat at the park each day.

"They love to play at the park, and they like the food," said Longmont's Laura Swenson, who regularly visits with her four children plus other mom friends. "It's a good program."

St. Vrain Valley Schools is helping keep children fed over the summer — especially those whose families depend on free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year.

St. Vrain Valley is in its second year of providing lunches to both children and adults at four sites in Longmont and one in the Frederick and Firestone area with the help of community partnerships.

Nutrition Director Shelly Allen said the district is averaging 500 lunches a day this summer at the park sites, plus providing free breakfast and lunch at about 20 schools through the district's summer learning programs.

"We're getting a really nice turnout this summer," she said.

In St. Vrain Valley, the district first joined with community partners two summers ago to start a community lunch program. The program started with two sites in Longmont, then expanded to four sites in Longmont and one in the Frederick-Firestone area.

Allen said Erie has expressed interest in hosting a site, but the district doesn't have enough staff members to make it happen. It takes 40 to 50 district cafeteria workers to staff the program each summer, she said.

To get the program going, the district partnered with Longmont, and the city's Children, Youth and Families department secured a $190,000, two-year grant from Kaiser Permanente. The USDA's summer program covers the cost for those 18 and younger, while the grant pays for adult meals and marketing.

While the grant is ending, Allen said, the district will look for a funding source to continue to provide meals to adults next summer.

"There's certainly a need for it in the community," she said.

Along with securing grant money, Longmont also provides crafts, activities and support services at the lunch sites.

"The activities make a big difference," Allen said.

On Thursday, two librarians from the Longmont Public Library brought the BookCycle mobile library and led a storytime during lunch. The librarians visit the park once a week.

"It's been great," said Children's Librarian Claire Studholme. "We've met a lot of new families, and we can see our regular patrons."

Lunch included Italian stuffed shells, a breadstick and an assortment of fresh veggies, plus milk and a fruit cup.

Lily Wilson, who cares for six children in her home, said they walk over to the park most days during the week.

"They like to play on the playground, they like the food and they like the ladies who serve lunch because they're really nice," she said.

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From left, Lincoln Couture; 3, his sister, Aliyah Couture, 6, and their mother, Jenny Couture, have a lunch provided through the St. Vrain Valley School District's summer lunch program Thursday at Rothrock Dell Park, 700 E. Fifth Ave., Longmont. "We try to make it every day," Jenny said. (Lewis Geyer / Times-Call Staff Photographer)