Feeding frenzy: Children’s summer food programs open, food pantry donations needed

by Cristin Parker

You’ve heard the saying there’s no such thing as a free lunch? That’s not true for Cherokee County’s young people.

Several school districts and other local entities across the county are participating in the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Anyone under the age of 18 years qualifies for free meals at local locations, including the Rusk Primary School, Jacksonville, Cushing and Frankston High Schools, New Summerfield ISD and other locations in Cherokee County.

“Ours is at the Primary School this year,” RISD Food Service Director John Hood said. “It’s set up for our summer school students, but it’s open to any school aged child in Rusk, 18 years and under. We’re offering it free of charge to make it easier for our local students to get at least lunch, through the summer months.

Hood said the site is averaging 15 to 18 children a day since it opened earlier this month.

According to the Ag Department’s website, the SFSP ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.

“This summer, USDA plans to serve more than 200 million free meals to children 18 years and under at approved SFSP sites” the USDA’s website states.

Food insecurity, as defined by the USDA, is when a family’s consistent access to adequate food is limited by the lack of financial and other resources. National reports indicate while food insecurity exists in every area across the country, residents in rural areas, and especially children and senior citizens, tend to face hunger at higher rates.

“In Texas, 4,277,540 people are struggling with hunger, and of them 1,676,740 are children,” Feeding America’s website, feedingamerica.org, states. Feeding America is a non-profit organization that’s been working to end hunger in America for more than 35 years, through a nationwide network of food banks.

Cherokee County children and young people can visit these locations for summer meals:

- Lunch served from noon-12:20 p.m. Monday-Thursday through June 21, at the Rusk Primary School, 440 Collins St., Rusk.

- Breakfast served from 7:30-8 a.m. and lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to noon, Monday-Thursday through June 29 at the Alto ISD cafeteria.

- Breakfast served 7:30-8 a.m., and lunch served 10:30-11:45 a.m., Monday-Thursday through July 31 at Jacksonville High School, 1210 Corinth Road, Jacksonville.

- Breakfast served 7:30-8 a.m. and lunch served from noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Thursday through June 28, at West Side Elementary, 1105 College Ave., Jacksonville.

- Breakfast served from 7:30-8 a.m., and lunch served from 11 a.m. to noon, Monday-Thursday through June 28, At New Summerfield ISD, 13307 HWY. 110 S., New Summerfield.

- Breakfast served from 8-9 a.m., and lunch served from noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday through June 29 at Frankston High School, 100 Perry St., Frankston.

- Breakfast served from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday-Friday through July 20 at Cushing High School, 1088 E. Bearkat Dr., Cushing.

Other summer lunch sites, sponsored by the Regional East Texas Food Bank, in Cherokee County include:

- Lunch served from noon to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday through Aug. 17, at the Jacksonville Public Library, 502 S. Jackson St., Jacksonville.

- Lunch served from noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday through Aug. 17, at Zion Hill Church, 1207 Skyline Blvd., Jacksonville. Afternoon snack served from 1:30-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Aug. 17.

- Lunch served from noon to 12:30 p.m., Monday-Friday through Aug. 17, at Sweet Union Apartments, 1011 N. Jackson St., Jacksonville.

- Lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday-Friday through July 12 at the Fairview Community Center, 17053 CR 4247 W., Reklaw.

Another easy way to make sure food insecure residents are getting enough to eat is remembering to support the county’s food banks.

“The need of the community grows during the summer months, when children are out of school,

HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment) Inc. Executive Director Sandra Fry said. “We’re seeing more and more people needing help this summer, and we encourage people who can to remember our Manna Pantry. Especially since we serve not only the Jacksonville community, but the entire Cherokee County community as well.”

The Manna Pantry is open for pick-ups from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, no appointment needed.

Donations of non-perishable foods items like canned goods including veggies, fruits and meat; pasta; dried beans, peas and rice; crackers; peanut butter; boxed items like Hamburger Helper, Rice a Roni, instant potatoes and mac and cheese; cereal and instant oatmeal; and juice are always needed.

HOPE also provides food boxes to senior citizens from 1-3 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month. Another program HOPE offers, the Kitchen of HOPE, serves a healthy meal to anyone who visits the Kitchen from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

“Everyone who walks through the doors is welcome to a hot meal,” Fry said.

The Kitchen accepts donations of fresh, homegrown fruits and veggies from local gardeners and farmers.

“We even have some community members donate fresh yard eggs from time to time as well,” Fry said. “We’re so appreciative of all our donations. They serve a very vital program for our community.”

The Kitchen is located at 595 Ragsdale St., Jacksonville. Kitchen volunteers are also needed through the summer months.

Other food banks that serve Cherokee County include:

- The Alto Food Pantry, 166 Cooper St. Hours are 3-4 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month.

- Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1023 Corinth Rd., Jacksonville, Hours are 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Thursday.

- Society of St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 1031 SE Loop 456, Jacksonville. Hours are 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday.

- River of Life Christian Center, 677 S. Dickinson St., Rusk. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every first Thursday and 5-7 p.m. every third Thursday of the month.

- Rusk Cares – Good Samaritan, 190 Second St., Rusk. Hours are 9-11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week.

- Wells Interfaith Pantry, 130 N. Rusk St., Wells. Hours are 8-10 a.m. the last Thursday of every month.