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WDC Summer Foods program provides free, healthy meals for youths

Photo by Dana Pavek, WDC Schools Wadena-Deer Creek Food Services cook Gina Stave serves siblings Bradley and Madyson Moats lunch at Deer Creek School.  Stave is preparing and serving lunches at the school this summer.1 / 2
Kids Club preschooler Ariana Paplow enjoys a hot and healthy lunch at the elementary school in Wadena.2 / 2

Watching her two children devour a nutritious meal at Wadena-Deer Creek School's Summer Food Program makes Deer Creek mom Angie Moats very happy.

Moats brings her children, Madyson, 9, and Bradley, 5, to the Summer Food program each week at Deer Creek School. She is happy her children are eating a healthy meal that fits her budget.

"Oh, yes, I like it. It's a chance for my kids to get a good, square meal and to see their friends in the summer," Moats said.

In Deer Creek, lunch is served only on days summer recreation is in session. Children 18 years and younger receive a free, nutritious breakfast and lunch at WDC Elementary School, Monday through Friday, during the summer months. Menus for both sites are posted on the school's website for families to view. Adults may join their children for lunch; however, there is a fee of $4 charged.

The Summer Food 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 Minnesota Food and Nutrition Service. The school is then reimbursed for the meals.

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

The majority of the Deer Creek youths taking advantage of the program are from the Community Education summer activities offered by WDC School. However, youths living in the city and day care providers participate in the program too, said Gina Stave, who helps Rentz put the menu choices together as well as prepare and serve the food at Deer Creek School.

"I enjoy seeing the kids come through the line each day," Stave said. "It's fun to see how excited they get when there's something new on the menu. They especially love the fresh watermelon." 

At the Wadena site, Rentz works with Nadine Wegscheid on the menus. Wegscheid and her food service co-workers, Rosie Middendorf, Carmen Robinson, Lisa Ashbaugh and Mary Schmitt, alternate days and help Wegscheid serve meals. 

"We really enjoy seeing the kids over the summer months," Wegscheid said. "It's good to see them get healthy meals."

Rentz said WDC originally participated in 2008 as a way to provide the school's Kids Club with 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 throughout the past five years, with Wadena averaging 130 youths per day and Deer Creek 43 youths per day.

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

During the school year, 57 percent of WDC's schoolchildren receive free and reduced-priced breakfast and lunch through WDC Schools' Food Service Program.  According to the Minnesota 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. 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.

Wadena mom Kim Snyder has three growing boys: Blaine, 13; William, 11; and Mason, 10. They are involved in baseball and summer recreation activities, and she said it's nice to have a hot meal ready for them because oftentimes the boys' sports schedules don't allow her time to go home to fix a meal.

"As a mom, it's good to know they are getting a nice, well-balanced meal," Snyder said.