HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Hungry children throughout Huntsville will once again have a chance to have three hot meals this summer through the city school district's Summer Feeding Program.
"When you have food in your belly, you can learn," smiled J.O. Johnson High School Principal Eric Jones during a Thursday news conference to celebrate the start of another summer season of feeding kids - and even their parents - all over the city.
The district hopes to surpass the more than 98,000 meals it served during the inaugural program last summer.
That's a huge success, but Kathy Pace, USDA Southeast Region Senior Community Nutrition Specialist, says there's still much work to be done to get the rest of the state on the same page as Huntsville.
"Even though we are serving so many children nationally, here in the state of Alabama really only 7.8 percent of kids who are eligible to receive a meal actually get one in the summer - so there's just a lot of room for growth," says Pace.
Of course, free meals are no good if kids can't get to them. That's why the city of Huntsville is providing free bus transportation to children who need a ride to a school so they can eat. Students received transportation passes before school let out for the summer.
The passes will also be made available at the meal sites.
This year, breakfast and lunch will be served at Chapman, Dawson, Providence, Ridgecrest and Williams elementary schools and Johnson High School.
Breakfast hours for those elementary schools will be from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Johnson High will serve breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at all six schools.
Breakfast and dinner will be served at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Westlawn Middle School. Breakfast hours for MLK will be from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.; Westlawn's breakfast hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Both schools will serve dinner from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Summer Feeding Program, which is funded mostly through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers three free, hot meals to children 18 and under from anywhere in the city, whether or not they are enrolled in the school district. Adults who accompany the children can eat as well, but have to pay for their meals.
The cost for adults is $2.50 for breakfast and $4 for lunch and dinner.
This year's program runs through July 18. The schools will not serve meals on July 4.
Meals will also be served to students participating in the Extended Learning Program at Butler High and Lakewood, McDonnell, Rolling Hills and University Place elementary schools, but those schools will not be open to the public.
"We hope this program becomes contagious throughout the state and throughout the nation and we're happy to serve as the role model providing three, free, hot meals a day," echoed City Schools Director of Communications Rena Anderson.