There is a sunny blue sky. You can hear the starlings chirping above orange and white peonies shaded by the park's oak trees. Then, you hear the laughter and see dozens of kids running over the grass.
Little boys and girls, teenagers, families and friends, they are all running towards a truck and you realize this is the best thing happening in their day.
But this truck is not an ice cream truck. It’s one of the vans that CAPTAIN Community Human Services uses to deliver summer meals in Saratoga County, N.Y.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, summer meals have become one of the most exciting moments of the day for thousands of kids. According to Jackie Sorensen, CAPTAIN’s food service program manager, kids don’t just get the food they need; they also get books, activities to take home and a chance to see their friends from school.
“They were so excited because they really didn't have anything else going on because of COVID,” she shared. “Even months later kids would still talk about the vans.”
Like many communities across the nation, the last year and a half has been very difficult for Saratoga County. People lost their jobs, and families struggled to put food on the table. But the community also came together to support each other.
“People here really care about their neighbors,” said Andy Gilpin, executive director at CAPTAIN. “It’s amazing to see so many motivated people coming together. The evidence is in our volunteers, the in-kind donations we get and the support from municipalities, towns and villages.”
CAPTAIN’s goal is to empower people to reach goals of personal growth and self-sufficiency. They offer a variety of services including support to the homeless community, job assistance and summer meals. This summer they will have 20 distribution sites in different cities across the county, including four mobile sites.
The group of volunteers serving at the mobile sites struggled not being able to interact with the kids last year. They were creative in bringing joy and activities in addition to the essential meals they were delivering. They created systems of contactless book delivery, and as explained by Sorensen, “did everything in their power to make it enjoyable for kids.”
Even as coronavirus restrictions ease and kids are able to participate in more activities, the situation in Saratoga County continues to be challenging for many families. This summer 1 in 6 kids in the US could be living in hunger.
“Most of the families are still unemployed,” Gilpin shared. “Not all of our businesses are back to full capacity, so many may have reduced hours. Incomes are still not where they used to be pre-COVID, and families are struggling to make ends meet.”
Similar to last year, this summer the USDA has allowed some waivers to make it easier for families to access summer meals. Sorensen praised these USDA waivers that allowed them to serve 70% more meals.
“Last summer was one of our biggest summers that we ever had,” Sorensen said. “We're now able to take the meals offsite and parents can come up to the sites and pick the meals up for their kids. I think the waivers are amazing and allow us to reach more children and families.”
No Kid Hungry continues advocating for making these flexibilities permanent and applauds the decision to extend the waivers this summer.
But too many families in need still don’t know about the free summer meals offered nationwide by programs like CAPTAIN.
At No Kid Hungry, we want to ensure all children and teens can have the food they need. Join us in spreading the word about our Free Meal Finder Map and our textline, where families can send the word “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877 to find free meals near them, like the ones offered by CAPTAIN in New York.