SYCAMORE – Sycamore School District 427 is participating in a free summer food program for the first time after more than half of the students at West Elementary School qualified for free or reduced price lunches this past school year.
Voluntary Action Center has held its summer food service program in the area for the past 20 years, but this summer marks the first time D-427 has been part of the program. West Elementary School, 240 S. Fair St., had 297 students enrolled last year and at least half of them qualified for the lunch program during the school year.
"We've been very close over the past few years, but this year [West] became eligible," said Superintendent Kathy Countryman. "The numbers change year to year."
Although West is the only school in the district eligible for the program, it is open to other children in the district, too. The program at West serves lunches Tuesdays through Thursdays from June through August, ending shortly before school is back in session. VAC provides transportation to families who need a way to get to the school. By offering these bus passes, VAC hopes to cut down on barriers that may prevent the community from access to food.
"We realize if there are issues [getting food] during the school year, there will be [issues] during the summer," said VAC Associate Director Ellen Rogers.
The school district sees this as an opportunity not only to get food to local families and children, but to keep them mentally busy, as well. Countryman said school district leaders sat down with VAC representatives to see how the two could complement each other.
"We wanted to look at ways to put together educational pieces with the food program to make sure students and families were comfortable in the environment," Countryman said. "Kids and families feel comfortable coming to their school."
Countryman hopes that planned literacy projects during these days and other activities help move the educational process along, even during the summer.
Rogers said it was a win-win for VAC and the Sycamore community, because by working with West, a broader community in Sycamore can be reached through food and activities. For literacy programs, the school district has teachers and paraeducators working on reading lessons with those interested. Countryman hopes it keeps children excited about reading, even in the summer.
Other summer food programs are all located in DeKalb and include the Kishwaukee YMCA, 2550 Bethany Road; Camp Maple Leaf in Hopkins Park; University Village, 722 N. Annie Glidden Road; Haish Gym, 303 S. 9th St.; Barb City YMCA, 303 S. 9th St.; and Gideon Court, 1325 W. Lincoln Highway.
For information on the Voluntary Action Center's Summer Food Service Program, call 815-758-3932. To find a nearby location anywhere in Illinois, text "FoodIL" in English or "AlimentosIL" in Spanish to 877-877.