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From left: Josh, 8; JJ, 9; Kaeli, 11; Trenton, 4, Dan Sloan; Willow, 6; and Chris Decker try to make it every day for lunch at WDC Elementary School for the Summer Food Program. Not pictured is Conner, 16.

WDC Summer Foods Program provides free, healthy meals for youths

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News Wadena,Minnesota 56482 http://www.wadenapj.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/36/0304/summer-foods-program-2.jpg?itok=fyZ8QOXM
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WDC Summer Foods Program provides free, healthy meals for youths
Wadena Minnesota 314 S. Jefferson 56482

For Chris Decker and Dan Sloan, watching their children devour a nutritious meal at Wadena-Deer Creek Schools' Summer Food Program is a win-win for their family.

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"We are thrilled with this program," said Chris Decker, who with her partner Dan Sloan, have six children: Trenton, 4; Willow, 6; Josh, 8; JJ, 9; Kaeli, 11; and Connor, 16. The blended family resides in Wadena. Decker and Sloan bring their polite and well-behaved children nearly every day for a well-balanced lunch at the WDC Elementary cafeteria this summer.

"We appreciate how our children get a healthy, square meal that meets the food requirements," said Chris Decker. "Plus, this helps stretch our budget. Our family can go through a loaf of bread at one meal, so this program is really a win-win for us."

The family was familiar with the Summer Food Program when they lived in Park Rapids, where the school sponsored it as well. The program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, Food and Nutrition Service and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

WDC Food Service Director Sandie Rentz submits meal counts each month to the MN Food and Nutrition Service; the school is then reimbursed for the meals.

"We are very fortunate to have a great staff who realizes the importance of summer food and work hard to provide nutritional meals for our children in Wadena and Deer Creek," Rentz said.

Children 18 years and younger receive a free, nutritious breakfast and lunch at WDC Elementary School, Monday through Friday, during the summer months. In Deer Creek, lunch is served only on days summer recreation is in session. Menus for both sites are posted on the school's website for families to view. Adults may join their children for lunch, but there is a fee of $5 charged per meal.

The majority of the Deer Creek youths taking advantage of the program are from the summer recreation programs; however, youths living in the city as well as day care providers participate in the program, said Bobbie Bullard, who helps Rentz put the menu choices together, as well as serve the food at the renovated Deer Creek School.

"I enjoy seeing the kids come through the line each day," said Bullard, who knows most of the kids by name. "It's fun to see how excited they get when there's something new on the menu. When the kids come in from outside, they are hungry!" Bullard said with a chuckle.

At the Wadena site, Rentz works with cooks Nadine Wegscheid, Rosie Middendorf and Carmen Robinson on the menus, choosing foods that fit into each nutritious category. The Wadena cooks, Wegscheid, Middendorf and Robinson, serve breakfast and lunch, along with their sunny dispositions.

"We really enjoy seeing the kids during the summer months. It's good to see them get a healthy meal," said Middendorf, who was busy preparing a homemade blueberry crumble dessert for lunch.

Program grows each summer

Wadena-Deer Creek Schools joined the Summer Foods Program in 2008, and each year the number of participants has grown.

Summer Food Program Participants:

Wadena Deer Creek

2008 80* 25*

2009 100 28

2010 105 30

2011 115 50

*Daily averages at each site.

Rentz said WDC originally participated in 2008 as a way to provide the school's Kids Club a nutritious meal during the summer months. Kids Club is an extended child care program at WDC Schools. The Summer Food Program has grown steadily over the past four years, with Wadena averaging 115 youths per day and Deer Creek, 50.

"I think the program has grown because of marketing and word of mouth," Rentz said, adding, "Unfortunately, there is also a growing need."

During the school year, nearly 60 percent of WDC's schoolchildren receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch through WDC Schools Food Service Program. According to the MN Department of Education, hunger is one of the most serious roadblocks to the learning process.

Furthermore, lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again. Hunger also may make children more prone to illness and other health issues. That's why the Summer Food Service Program is designed to fill that nutrition gap and make sure children can get the nutritious meals they need.

"The portions are generous and the food is very good," said Dan Sloan, as he helped 4-year-old Trenton cut up his broccoli and cauliflower into smaller pieces.

Trenton simply smiled in agreement as he chewed happily on a mouth full of broccoli and cauliflower.

Deer Creek's Summer Foods Program ended on July 15 while Wadena's program continues through Aug. 19, Monday through Friday. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and lunch from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the WDC Elementary Cafeteria. Please use the Dayton Avenue entrance. Go to www.wdc2155.k12.mn.us to view menus. Any questions, contact Sandie Rentz, Food Services Director at WDC Schools: (218) 632-2396.

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