L.I. Cares launches summer food program at Stotzky Park

LI Cares started offering free breakfast for kids under age 18 through the end of August. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
LI Cares started offering free breakfast for kids under age 18 through the end of August. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A 2010 study by food bank L.I. Cares showed that 39 percent of the 283,700 Long Islanders who receive emergency food each year are children under 18 years of age.

So when school goes out for the summer — leaving many kids who receive free and reduced lunches at school without a source of nutrition — hunger assistance organizations such as L.I. Cares and Long Island Harvest find themselves trying to fill in the gaps for families.

With that in mind, L.I. Cares launched a new site for anyone under age 18 in need of a morning meal, opening an open site location in Stotzky Park from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every weekday.

“I chose it because I live in Riverhead, and to my knowledge it’s a popular park,” Child Nutrition Program Specialist Kerry Tooker explained.

An “open site” food location means that any child 18 and under can receive food there, no prior enrollment necessary.

The Summer Food Service Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and works with food banks to provide free and nutritious meals for children in low-income areas.

In Riverhead School District, 2,145 students out of the total student population of 5,100 qualify for free lunch and 300 qualify for reduced lunch, according to the District’s Chief Information Officer Chris Amato.

Though the meal changes daily, it always includes some type of fruit, a grain like a bagel, muffin or cereal bar, and a choice of milk or chocolate milk. The program started on July 7, and is offered through Aug. 29

Turnout was a little sporadic to start, Ms. Tooker said, varying anywhere from 19 kids to only one, one day.

Though the attendance numbers have picked up in the last week, staying well in the teens every day, Ms. Tooker said that public transportation to the park would be helpful. Currently, no buses run directly to Stotzky.

On Friday afternoons only, free lunch is given out from 12 to 1 p.m. at Ammann Riverfront Park in Riverhead. It is an open feeding site as well, coordinated by L.I. Cares in partnership with Lighthouse Mission of Patchogue.

For the last two years Riverhead Public Library was an open site for the Summer Food Service Program, working with hunger-relief organization Island Harvest, but this year they will not be. During the first year of the program they served 1,068 meals over 39 days.

“When I found out that Stotzky Park was going to be a location for L.I. Cares and that Island Harvest was going to have a site at Flanders Community Center, I thought it would just be duplicating services to have it at the library too,” said head of children’s services Laurie Harrison, who worked with Island Harvest the past two years.

“With resources so scarce, I thought, why drain each others’ resources? But we’ve offered to be a site again next year, so that’s in the works.”