Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PARTNERS FOR A HUNGER-FREE OREGON - A child enjoys a meal at the Rockwood Library branch through the summer food program aided in part by the Partners for a Hunger-free Oregon.Portland youngsters are flocking to 100-plus free lunch site locations throughout the city this summer.

The federal Summer Food Service Program supports thousands of Portland kids each summer and was established to meet the needs of those who benefit from the free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the academic year.

"We know families that are struggling are having an extra hard time," says Lesley Nelson, child hunger prevention manager at the Portland nonprofit Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

Each site provides children ages 1 to 18 with a free meal during the week. Adults older than 18 pay about $2 to $4 for a meal, which varies at each location.

Nelson estimates that about 43,000 kids in Oregon were fed each day last year. All locations are staffed and coordinated by a sponsor, who provides food and sometimes an activity. Outside organizations, such as Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, stop by to work with kids, she says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the program and the money is distributed through the Oregon Department of Education. Local school districts and organizations like Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon help to pitch in.

This year, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon awarded $42,000 in grants, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 each, to 14 organizations. "The need is always there," Nelson says.

Overall, the program has been able to provide kids with the opportunity to eat nutritious food, in a safe place that promotes academic development, she says.

Sites such as the one at Mill Park Elementary, in outer East Portland on 1900 S.E. 117th Ave., have seen private and public donations to enrich the existing program. The site serves children from Gilbert Heights Elementary and Mill Park Elementary.

More than 165 kids, ages 5 to 12 are fed lunch at the location. Some of the kids are from the David Douglas School District, which Nelson says has 78 percent of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch.

For the kids, she says, the program is a "natural extension for what they are provided during the school year."

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