Food bank, libraries help kids "lunch and learn"

August 10, 2011 7:42:47 PM PDT
The Alameda County Community Food Bank is partnering with several Oakland libraries for something you could call a "lunch and learn" program for kids.

Low-incoming students are fed lunch at school, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But in the summer when school closes, many families fend for themselves.

"A lot of that has to do with that fact that we don't have enough places where kids can go to get food," food bank spokesperson Ecaterina Burton said.

Michael Roth is a former school superintendent. He saw a way to expand the federal food program. He had read about the opening of a new library and had heard Oakland's mayor talk about government agencies collaborating in these times of budget cuts.

"And it clicked in my mind that while they are walking through this gateway into this beautiful new library wouldn't it be nice if that became a site where they could have a good lunch every day as well," Roth said.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank, where he volunteers, loved the idea. So did several library branch managers in Oakland's poorest neighborhoods.

Pete Villasenor heads the Cesar Chavez Public Library in the Fruitvale District. He even helps distribute the lunches every day.

"Because the kids have food in their bellies, they are able to stay longer in the library and browse the books and all the great materials that we have for them," Villasenor said.

On the first day, about 25 kids were fed. Today, that number has increased to 70. Then after lunch, it's time to feed their minds.

"They come to pick up some books and eat lunch because it is very healthy and they like it so much," parent Veronica Cordero said.

"I like that they give out free lunches to us and they let us read books and borrow them," program participant Carlos Martinez said.

Oakland has 14 public libraries -- five have now joined the library-food program which is still funded by the federal government and coordinated by the local food bank. Next summer they hope other libraries will follow their lead.

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