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Summer Meal Program expands to meet community needs

Mississippi was recently ranked as the most food-insecure state, but Oxford School District is doing its part to combat the problem with its Summer Meal Program.

The program, which is a partnership with the USDA, will be in operation on weekdays from June 4 through July 20. It provides breakfast and lunch free-of-charge to any child ages 18 and under. Adults can dine as well, if they pay $1.75 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch. Breakfast is held from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m., and lunch is held from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

In past years, the program has operated exclusively out of the cafeteria at Oxford Intermediate School, but this year, meals will also be served at Oxford Middle School to keep up with demand. Expanding the program is a decision Dan Westmoreland, OSD director of child nutrition, said was an obvious choice.

“We’ve got six industrial kitchens in six cafeterias, so to me it’s just a no-brainer,” Westmoreland said. “Our country has 40 million kids that, when they leave school, don’t get food. All 40 million of those kids are out for summer, and to me that’s what it’s really about, us just being there for the kids in our area.”

He added that it’s important that the food served during the program be filling and healthy. OSD favorites like made-from-scratch John Wayne casserole and lasagna will be on the menu, as well as staples like cheeseburgers and hoagies, according to Westmoreland.

Many summer camps and youth organizations frequent the program, including the Boys and Girls Club, OPC summer camps, church groups and daycares. Because those are the people who watch the children during the day, Westmoreland said it made sense to incorporate them into the program.

The program avoids “overt identification” when it comes to Summer Meals. Regardless of residential status, socioeconomic status or if a child receives a free-and-reduced lunch or not, all are welcome.

“Summer Meals has nothing to do with somebody’s lunch status, or their income. It has everything to do with feeding kids,” Westmoreland said. “That’s kind of what I like about it, there’s no identification piece to it. People come from Coffeeville, Water Valley, from all over the outskirts. That’s another reason I felt like we needed a bigger location – it’s not just Oxford itself, it’s the surrounding area.”

In Lafayette County alone, there are 9,850 food-insecure people, according to a recent study released by Feed America. 56 percent of the population lives below the SNAP threshold, compared to 39 percent who live comfortably above the eligibility requirements for nutrition programs. Out of all these people, Westmoreland said they averaged 600 diners a day last summer.

He also said there’s one thing people in the LOU community and surrounding counties can do that will benefit the program more than anything else.

“If there’s anything that anybody can do for us in the city of Oxford or Lafayette County, if you’re heading to one of our locations to eat, stop along the way and pick up any child that you can,” he said. “We don’t care if they come in a bus, just come eat.”

To learn more about the Summer Meals Program, visit https://www.oxfordsd.org/SummerMeals.