Summer program provides nearly 1,000 meals each day

Jonesboro Lunch Program
(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Jonesboro Public School's Summer Feeding Program is providing meals to a huge number of children.

Superintendent of the JPS District Dr. Kim Wilbanks said there is a real need in the Jonesboro community.

"The Jonesboro School District has worked with the Seamless Summer Feeding Program to provide meals for our many needy students throughout the district and the community," Dr. Wilbanks said. "We are so excited to be able to do this for our kids. I received an email today from President Obama. This is really a push throughout our nation and throughout our community that we have such a large number of children in poverty. And those children very often go without meals when the summer occurs, and school is not in session."

Dr. Wilbanks said people would be surprised at the number of meals they are giving out.

"For the Jonesboro School District, about 75% of our children qualify for free and reduced lunch," she said. "In our community, that means that those children meet immediate eligibility requirements. So, they don't even fill out a form in the district. They either qualify for food stamps, they qualify as a foster child, or homeless. And I think very often our community doesn't recognize the number of children who are in these situations. They're often kind of a hidden population because they're not the population you see every day, but that doesn't make the need any less real."

Dr. Wilbanks said they are handing out close to 1,000 meals each day. This is the program's second year.

"And we had such a great response last year and recognized what a great need there was," Dr. Wilbanks. "So, we expanded our locations that children could actually come to and receive meals this year so that we could better serve a larger number in our community."

There are two closed sites at the International Studies Magnet School and the Jonesboro Pre-K.

A closed site means they only serve the students who are in programs at those schools.

But there are multiple sites where any child can go to get food. Those are Annie Camp Jr. High, Microsociety Magnet School, Success Achievement Academy, and Jonesboro High School.

They also take food to the Parker Park Community Center to hand out.

It's at this site Dr. Wilbanks said they learned an employee didn't follow the rules and gave a meal to an adult.

"We identified an employee not following direct protocol," Dr. Wilbanks said. "So, we are going to handle that in a very serious sort of way. I don't think the intentions of this person was anything other than trying to serve people who presented themselves as in need of a meal, but that doesn't change that guidelines have to be followed, and they have to be followed very strictly. So, we have already put into place some actions that will make sure that does not occur."

Dr. Wilbanks said this situation happened at only one food site.

"With great scrutiny, we looked at this program, and it was a single site," Dr. Wilbanks said. "So, we are addressing that and will make sure it does not occur."

There is a good reason for making sure the employees follow the rules to the letter.

"We're fortunate to get to be a part of these programs that serve our students," Dr. Wilbanks said. "One of the things we never want to do is take advantage of any of those programs. We want to absolutely ensure that we are following the guidelines."

Dr. Wilbanks said this program is necessary for the children in the Jonesboro community.

"You know how important it is for a child to not go hungry and, of course, none of us want to see children who are without food," Dr. Wilbanks said. "But the reality is that parents who have not fed their children three meals a day during the winter all of a sudden have the added responsibility of providing that nutrition. A lot of these children also come from homes where the parents may get up early and go to work, and they may be left at home on their own for the day. This gives them an opportunity to go to that site to pick up a meal."

The district does not benefit from this program in any way, except for the opportunity to meet the need they see in the community.

"It's a reimbursement program," Dr. Wilbanks said. "We serve all the meals and then we apply for reimbursement for the students who have received meals."

The program is funded through the Seamless Summer Program through the Arkansas Department of Education.

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