LYNNWOOD — The coolers opened to reveal brown paper bags and cartons of milk. Kids hurried to line up, many not much taller than the table where summer lunches waited.
They scattered to seats in an upstairs room of the Community Life Center at Northwest Church, then dug through their bags. Most quickly devoured the cheese sticks and gave the egg salad a chance, but several pears and bags of carrot sticks wound up on the “share table,” where rejected snacks can be snagged by other kids.
This is the second year the nonprofit Foundation for Edmonds School District has put on a summer lunch program. It’s one of many such programs around the county. This one includes activities before and after meals, and is run by a nonprofit rather than through the schools.
There are three locations, up from two last year, close to schools with high numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals during the school year. The program runs Mondays through Thursdays until Aug. 24 at Martha Lake Baptist Church, Edgewood Baptist Church and the Community Life Center.
It isn’t just for low-income families. Combining lunch and activities is meant to create a safe space for kids during the summer. Everyone is welcome, as long as they are old enough to eat by themselves and no older than 18.
The foundation started handling summer lunches after learning that the school district was operating its program at a deficit, executive director Deborah Anderson said. The group partnered with the YMCA of Snohomish County, which gets federal money for the food. The foundation pays for staff and other supplies. Donations are needed, and volunteers are welcome.
Last year, there were about a dozen kids per location per day. This year, the average is 23. It’s good growth, but Anderson dreams of seeing hundreds of kids. More than 7,700 students in the district qualify for free or reduced price lunches, according to the state. Anderson worries about how many of them get regular meals when school’s out. The foundation has a Nourishing Network program that includes summer, weekend and holiday meals and toiletry kits.
The summer lunches are prepared by FareStart, an organization that teaches restaurant skills to people looking for a fresh start after addiction, homelessness or incarceration. Each meal has protein, fruit, vegetables and milk.
“Some meals go over better than others,” program coordinator Elizabeth Wiley said. “They love the cheese sticks. The carrot sticks don’t do too bad.”
There’s usually play time before lunch, a meal at noon and activities afterward, including exercises and games during “gym time.”
Yomna El Gamai, 11, comes most days. The sixth-grader likes gym time best. Her favorite was when they all played Twister.
She’s also a fan of the meals. She likes the vegetables.
It’s nice to see other students in the summer.
“You’ll make friends with lots of kids here who are your age,” she said.
Luis Lopez, 12, brings his brother Jacob, 4. They’ve gone twice this summer, he said.
Luis enjoys playing games, especially ping pong. His favorite part of the meals is fruit.
Jacob is all about gym time. He’s full of energy and lively dance moves.
“It’s helpful for kids to get their energy out,” Wiley said. “I’m sure parents appreciate that.”
A library van brings books some days, and a back-to-school fair is in the works that would provide kids with haircuts, clothes and a wellness check after they finish lunch that day.
Though much of the foundation’s work is to bring resources to families in need, Anderson hopes summer meals become something that crosses economic boundaries.
“We’re trying to take away any stigma of it being a low-income program,” Anderson said. “We really market it as come play and eat with us.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more or volunteer, email email@example.com or call 425-431-7341. Donations can be made online at foundationesd.org.