What: Meals for children in Sequatchie County
When: Today through July 22
What: Free hot meals or bagged breakfasts or lunches for children 2-18. Adults may eat for $3.
Where: Griffith Elementary, other locations.
Information: Tammy Sullivan, 423-949-4915, 423-949-5246; Debbie Barker, 423-949-4005
DUNLAP, Tenn. - As gas prices and grocery costs rise, it's tough to stretch a dollar.
But starting today, parents can get some help from Sequatchie County Schools' summer feeding program for children.
Each weekday through July 22, children ages 2 to 18 can eat a hot breakfast at the Griffith Elementary School cafeteria or pick up a bagged breakfast or lunch. There's no charge for the children, and parents may join them for $3, said Cindy Keener, assistant program coordinator.
"I'm so thankful that we can provide them with nutritious meals throughout the summer because a lot of times when parents are at work, they get sandwiches and not a full, complete meal," said Keener.
"It improves their academic performance, their concentration and their behavior to have a balanced meal."
The state helps fund the program. Last year the program fed 180 to 200 children a day, Keener said. This year, 235 already have signed up and many more are expected to just walk in, she said.
Beyond schools, the program also is extended to "feeding sites" such as churches, day cares and day camps.
Food services coordinator Debbie Barker said there is no income limitation or residency requirement for people who want to eat.
Tammy Sullivan oversees the making of the meals. She said they must be nutritionally balanced and meet state criteria.
Children who choose bagged lunches may receive a sandwich, a vegetable, a piece of fruit, milk and juice. Bagged breakfasts include cereal.
Breakfast at school, served from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., is usually biscuits with ham or sausage. The school's hot lunch is served from 10 a.m. to 12:30 and varies from pizza to hamburgers, Sullivan said.
With high unemployment lingering in Sequatchie County, Barker said some children would go hungry if it weren't for the program.
"It's heartbreaking," she said. "The economy is so bad, there are a lot of people out of work. This is a great opportunity."
When it started a few years ago, the feeding program was offered only in June. Last year, it was extended to July 22.
The program isn't offered between July 22 and the start of school on Aug. 8 because school employees have to get ready for classes to start.