TAMPA — For many families, summer break poses a problem: how to make sure children get fed while the parents are away at work. In response to the issue, YMCA centers across the United States are providing free food and activities for children between the ages of 5 and 18.
"The YMCA's Summer Food Program will help kids stay well-nourished, active and energized," said Ashley Sorensen, executive director of the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA. "It also provides relief to families who need support in providing food when school is out."
Children like 7-year-old Michael Rodriguez might usually go to day care centers during the summer, but the YMCA has proven to be infinitely more engaging than the day care program he took part in last summer.
"I watched lots of TV at day care last summer," Michael said. "But here, they let us play basketball, football, kickball and we play World Cup (a modified soccer game)."
Stacey McDaniel, the YMCA's national spokeswoman for nutrition support programs, said the free summer lunches go hand in hand with physical activity and reading programs that the YMCA offers.
"The YMCA is endeavoring to nourish the entire child," McDaniel said. "Four years ago we decided as a national organization to organize our efforts, using a $35,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to support the Program."
The grant has been spread out over all of the participating branches. Participating branches also operate the program with support by other groups, including local churches, schools, food banks. Local farmers markets even contribute produce to give children fresh vegetables. In Tampa, the Potter House has been an active partner in the YMCA's Summer Food program.
"As long as there is a need for this food program we will provide for children," Sorensen said. "We will do this next summer."