This story has been updated to correct the number of meals that are served daily and the Debbie Smallwood works for Denton ISD.
Kids line up along the island in the kitchen of the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, waiting to be served the day’s meal. On Monday, they ate chicken tacos, served with an orange and milk. Some days it’s hot dogs or hamburgers.
The free meals served to the children are part of the national Summer Food Service Program, and the MLK center is just one of various Denton locations that offer free food to children and teens 18 and younger.
“I’ve tasted everything they’ve got, and it’s really good,” Debbie Smallwood said.
Smallwood, who works for Denton ISD, helps serve meals to kids. This is the second summer she has helped out with the program. The weekday breakfast and lunch meals at the King center are sponsored by the nonprofit S. Tracy Howard Project.
“It is much more rewarding than I thought it would be,” Smallwood said.
Nationally, 17.9% of children 18 and under experience food insecurity, according to the No Kid Hungry campaign run by Share Our Strength. The No Kid Hungry campaign defines that as “limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food at some point during the year.”
In Texas, 23.8% of children experience food insecurity, according to No Kid Hungry.
Smallwood said she serves about 90 meals a day. Some of the kids who receive meals are part of summer camps, while others are members of the community who drop by for food. No child is refused a meal.
“I think it has [grown],” Smallwood said. “I think, from last year, we’ve had a little more — maybe by 20 kids. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have kids that don’t have food, to me that’s a lot.”
Just under 16% of kids in all states participated in the summer meals program in 2015, “based on the number of low-income students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year,” according to No Kid Hungry.
“It’s hard to realize that there are hungry kids,” Smallwood said.
In Texas, 10.2% of kids participated in the summer meals program, according to No Kid Hungry.
“This is a good deal,” Smallwood said. “They may not get all they want, but they get a little something.”
To find places that serve free meals during the summer, visit summerfood.org and enter your ZIP code.