FORT MILL — On Friday afternoon, about 20 children and teens gathered under a picnic shelter at Steele Street Park. They watched the street, waiting for a familiar car.
A few minutes after 11 a.m., a worker with the Summer Feeding Program pulled into the parking lot and the older children sprang into action. Just three weeks into summer, they were already familiar with the routine: They helped unload boxes filled with lunches from the car, loaded them onto a picnic table and then gathered into a loose line.
One by one, the students received a boxed lunch from Vanessa Miller, who helps organize the lunch program at the park.
Steele Street Park receives 50 lunches daily. Many of the children served are already on site for a camp run daily by Latoya Benjamin.
Others, mostly teenagers, Miller said, come by just for lunchtime from around the community.
“As soon as they wake up, they’ll be here,” she said.
The Summer Feeding Program is funded by the Department of Social Services on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. York County sponsors the program. This year, the meals are packaged at Clinton Junior College by Perkins Management Services before heading out to the distribution sites.
Program director David Moore said that more than 4,000 children in York and Chester counties are served by the program at no cost to them or their families.
“I think it’s important because there really is a need,” Moore said. “People have been stretched thin the last couple of years.”
Around 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, trucks full of boxed lunches stop at 19 distribution sites throughout the area. Vehicles driven by workers with the program then get loaded up with a pre-determined number of lunches based on the demand in the area. Those vehicles are driven to 109 feeding sites across the two counties where any child under 18 can pick one up.
The Summer Feeding Program also serves the Boys and Girls Club in Fort Mill.
Moore said they’ve made an effort to update the menu from years’ past. He said while sandwiches are still common, they try to mix it up, too, with items such as chicken salad and a pita.
Jalil Watts enjoyed a turkey sandwich last week as he sat at the picnic table at Steele Street Park .
“It’s good,” he said.
“But not like home,” he added.
Three-year-old Tameka Stowers said that her favorite part is getting fruit juice.
Benjamin, charged with caring for many of the children daily, is pleased to see that each lunch has been nutritionally sound.
“It’s healthy. It’s a whole grain, a fruit and a vegetable. It’s very well rounded,” she said.
Herald reporter Rachel Southmayd contributed.