Summer meals program returns June 18

Summer vacation is supposed to be a fun time for kids.
But for those who rely on daily school lunch and breakfast programs to keep their bellies full and their bodies healthy, it can be a period filled with uncertainty and hunger.
Fortunately, Oxford Community Schools is once again coming to the rescue by offering a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) that will provide free, nutritious meals to those who need them and those who want them.
“This is a federally-funded program for any child, regardless of income,” said Nutrition Services Director Karen Bissett. “Any child from infant to 18 years of age can come.”
Beginning June 18, breakfast will be served from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All meals will be provided in the Oxford Elementary School (OES) cafeteria Monday through Friday until Aug. 17. The school is located at 109 Pontiac St. and folks are asked to enter through the north door.
Free meals are also available to any individual, up to age 26, who is enrolled in an educational program for the mentally and physically disabled that is recognized by a state or local public educational agency.
There is no need for parents to register or apply for the meals program. “You can come any day you want,” Bissett said.
This will be Oxford’s fifth year providing summer meals.
“It’s amazing how (much) our program has grown,” Bissett said. “Last year, we would average probably 200 students a day for lunch and we would get close to 100 every morning for breakfast.”
According to Bissett, who’s been with the district since August 2005, the program strives to offer something for everyone with a variety hot-meal options, plus cereal, breakfast bars, yogurt, salads, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.
“I want them to always have the very best choices,” she stressed.
She’s a big proponent of using fresh produce from local farmers markets.
“I just think it’s really important that our kids know where their food comes from,” said Bissett, who grew up on a farm outside of Brown City.
Bissett stressed that just because the summer meals program is beneficial to folks of limited financial means, it’s by no means restricted to them.
She said it’s a great way for parents and kids who are new to Oxford to meet others so they can encounter “some familiar faces” when classes resume in the fall.
It also makes for a convenient dining spot to take kids before or after attending programs at the Oxford Public Library, located next door to OES, Bissett noted.
“It’s just been a real positive thing,” she said. “It’s a great program for the community.”
Best of all, because the summer meals program is open to all young people, regardless of income level, there’s no stigma attached to participating.
“Nobody knows whether somebody is (eating) there because” they need to or they want to, Bissett said. “I think that’s really important. There’s no discrimination at all.”
Bissett loves it when OHS athletes stop by to grab a bite before practice and end up spending time with the younger children.
“Those little kids, they look up to those older kids,” she said. “They’re good role models.”
Oxford Schools’ commitment to the summer meals program earned it recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Earlier this year, the district was named a 2017 Turnip the Beet Award winner, silver level.
“We were really proud of that,” Bissett said. “It was a great honor.”
Launched in 2016, the Turnip the Beet Award recognizes outstanding SFSP sponsors who go above and beyond to ensure they’re offering high-quality meals that are appetizing, appealing and nutritious. There are three levels available – gold, silver and bronze.
Oxford was one of 11 sponsors in Michigan and 111 nationwide to receive one of these awards for 2017.
Award winners demonstrated excellence in a variety of ways, including serving fresh fruit daily, conducting taste tests with children and incorporating the feedback into menus, and offering nutrition education activities, according to the USDA.

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