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Huntsville City Schools and the City of Huntsville are teaming up to make local children’s summers just a little bit fuller.

The summer feeding program, which provides free meals for children under the age of 18, has been in place for years. The goal? Do our part to help eliminate childhood hunger, a significant problem in the state of Alabama, with one in four children in the state not knowing where their next meal will come from.

About five years ago, the City’s Parks & Recreation Department opened up the Brahan Springs Park and Dr. Richard Showers, Sr. Splash Pads as serving locations for the program.

Typically, meals are provided at select schools throughout the city, but the splash pad sites allow for food service via a mobile bus. The bus is run by Tamika Herron and Mirtha Petty, employees of Huntsville City Schools and EPSCO, an operation services vendor for the school system. This mobile option allows for the feeding program to go straight to the kids as they play on the splash pads. It was part of the appeal for Herron and Petty.

“I get to see a lot of my kids from school and kids from the other schools I’ve worked in,” Herron said. “They love their lunch lady, and I love seeing them.”

As Herron stuffed a brown paper bag with milk, which every child receives, Petty talked about the importance of the program.

“You can tell that not all of them eat like they should or are getting the nutrients they really need,” Petty said.  “This program helps with that.”

As both women spoke, one thing was clear, they are doing this for the kids. Not just kids who don’t get enough food to eat during the summer break, but every single kid they meet.

“Last year, a woman was with her kids at the splash pad and she watched other parents come take food from the van for a while before she finally came up to us,” said Herron. “We explained the program to her and gave her some food and then she told us that they were homeless. The meal we gave her family was the only meal they had eaten that whole day. That has really stuck with me.”

According to Laura Lester, the executive director at the Alabama Food Bank Association, providing consistent meals to kids improves attendance, standardized test scores and overall classroom attentiveness. The cherry on top? The Summer Feeding Program is a federal initiative. There is no cost to the city or the state.

“The  Summer Feeding Program in Huntsville is a game changer in terms of fighting food insecurity,” said Lester. “The great thing about the schools and the city working together is that they are committed to reach even more children in need every year.”

Huntsville’s Summer Feeding Program is praised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a model city because of Huntsville’s above and beyond commitment to provide transportation for children to the meal sites.