Free meals feed thousands
When over 50 chatty children line the cafeteria for lunch, Senitila McKinley turns nostalgic.
“We’ve done this for 16 years,” says McKinley, founder and director of Seashore Family Literacy, a nonprofit organization based in Waldport. “The free lunches were the first thing we did as an organization. We delivered lunches in the park, gathering neighborhood kids and feeding anyone we could.”
“And now, look,” she says, her eyes moist but bright, “the kids that were toddlers then are now working here, serving the meals to the younger ones.”
She gives a nod to Sean Fleming, 18, who was recently promoted to head chef. His brother Joshua, 16, works beside him dishing up meals.
Since 1993, Seashore Family Literacy has provided free meals as part of a federally funded Summer Food Service Program. Now through August 14, children 18 and younger are invited to enjoy free breakfast from 8:15 to 9am, and free lunch from 11:45am to 12:30pm. The service runs Monday through Friday at the Waldport Community Learning Center, located along Highway 34 at Bay St. The USDA-based program has strict requirements to ensure meals contain the proper nutritional balance.
Last summer, the Summer Food Program served nearly 1,000 meals.
Oregon has higher than national average rates for hunger and food insecurity, according to an Oregon Food Bank report. Over half of Lincoln County students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and nearly 60 percent of Waldport’s grade school students are considered economically disadvantaged. About 400 students in the district are considered homeless (defined as living with relatives or friends, awaiting foster care, or living in an emergency shelter, motel, campground, car or park). Even families not typically stretched are feeling the economic pinch as health and medical costs rise and job cutbacks increase.
“There are kids who don’t get fed without these meals,” notes Jessyka Baldwin, 16, who works in the kitchen as part of Seashore’s on-the-job training program.
Sean Fleming nods. “I used to be one of those kids because money was scarce.”
More than meals
This summer, Seashore is filling young bellies and minds. Between meals, children can take part in free music, arts, crafts, reading and writing activities. Seashore’s summer programs are free and take place from 8am to 2pm. For more information, call Seashore Family Literacy at 563-7323.
In addition to the summer meals, Seashore offers a free community breakfast every Saturday at 9:30am, and a free community dinner on the second Wednesday of each month at 5:30pm.