By Rebecca Fiedler
Churches, recreation centers and other organizations in Waco are providing local children with the only food they may eat between lunch at school and the next day’s breakfast.
In a program called Food on the Move, a free meal after school is offered to children of the community, along with tutoring and activities.
Food on the Move meals are sponsored by CitySquare, a federally funded nonprofit out of Dallas. Seventeen locations in the Waco area are provided with food to serve to children, courtesy of CitySquare. These locations serve dinner most weekdays to children up to the age of 18.
Aericka Ridge is the customer service representative with the Dewey Community Center, one of the 17 local locations for Food on the Move.
“Before the meals provided with Food on the Move, we would normally just buy snacks for kids after school,” Ridge said. “So Food on the Move kind of fills that void for us because it brings us meals every day.”
Through the program, organizations are provided with prepared meals to distribute for free to children within the community. Organizations also provide physical activities for children alongside the meals, as well as tutoring and help with homework.
The Dewey Community Center feeds 40 to 55 children each day they offer a meal, Ridge said.
“There are a lot of kids who don’t get meals when they get home, and parents don’t have time to prepare meals,” Ridge said. “I think it just helps kids to have a nutritional meal before bedtime.”
Stephanie Mallgren is the youth and family director at the Waco Family YMCA, which also participates in Food on the Move.
“A lot of these kids don’t have food,” Mallgren said. “The last meal for a lot of them when they come in was at 11:30 a.m., and they otherwise wouldn’t be eating again until breakfast at 7:30 the next morning. The meal helps them focus on their studies, if they have a full belly and don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”
Between Jan. 13, when the organization began participating in Food on the Move, and Jan. 31, Mallgren said 850 meals were served at the Waco Family YMCA.
Previously this YMCA served snacks provided by Waco Independent School District to children enrolled in the afterschool program at the YMCA, but now any child in the community can come to receive a meal for free, Mallgren said.
“When the kids come in and eat and visit with us, it’s kind of a community,” she said. “They enjoy it and come back.”
The McLennan County Hunger Coalition’s website, www.mclennanhunger.org, is currently seeking volunteers to help with Food on the Move.