Children enjoy food and activities at the Summer Food Program, sponsored by the YWCA of Van Wert County. The Summer Food Program will begin its 19th year on Monday, June 16. (Submitted photo)
Children enjoy food and activities at the Summer Food Program, sponsored by the YWCA of Van Wert County. The Summer Food Program will begin its 19th year on Monday, June 16. (Submitted photo)

VAN WERT — A local program that helps kids and parents alike during the long summer is set to start again on Monday, June 16. This will be the 19th summer for the YWCA of Van Wert County sponsoring the free Summer Food Program for area youth. The program, which started with a handful of children, has grown incredibly.

“The first couple of years we had around 30 kids and we were really excited about it,”exclaimed Program Director Danni Chiles. “Now we have usually 200 a day and register 300!”

The number of kids has grown over the years, and so has the number of staff needed to keep things under control and safe. This summer, there will be 21 staff members on hand specifically for the Summer Food Program. That includes 16 mentors, two supervisors, two cooks, and a life guard.

Last year, The YWCA staff served more than 20,000 meals during the summer. Backpack meals are also made available for the weekends. While during the school year, free and reduced-price breakfast and lunches through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs provide nutritional food for area children, the Summer Food Program aims to fill in the gap between the end of classes and the beginning of the next school year.

But the program is about much more than food. There is an assortment of positive activities on the agenda.

Chiles said, “That includes field trips, volunteer opportunities, interactions with a variety of speakers and presentations, and create mentoring relationships to encourage constructive decision making.” She listed activities like Fire and Police Department tours, days with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and OSU Extension, The Summer Reading Program at the Brumback Library, a STEM camp in cooperation with Vantage Career Center, and for the older kids, a mock trial with Judge Jill Leatherman, and some time helping cleanup duties for the Van Wert Parks Department at Jubilee Park.

“All activities are well supervised by qualified mentors, supervisors, and lifeguards,” Chiles summarized. “Anything we can walk to, we do!”

Chiles thanked Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz for helping with some transportation needs this summer. She also noted that the program used the grassy area around the Goedde Building on Crawford Street last year, but this year the walk will be shorter with the destination for several activities being the future Franklin Park, at the former Franklin School site.

“I realize that it’s just a big open field right now, but there are a lot of things you can do at a big open field!” Chiles noted. “And it’s an easier walk for the younger kids.”

The free, nutritious meals and recreational programs will be available for children 4-15 years of age. The free meals are available to any child ages 4-18 years old.

There are a few restrictions for the younger kids. For instance, all four-year-olds must be potty-trained to participate in the recreation program. Breakfast is served from 8- 9 a.m. while lunch will be from 11:30 p.m.-1 p.m. Children may be dropped off no earlier than 8 a.m. and picked up no later than 1 p.m. The program will run between June 16-August 15.

Meals will be provided without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service.

Registration is being taken now. Registration forms are available at the front desk of the YWCA or through the YWCA of Van Wert County’s website – The Ohio Department of Education, Child Nutrition Services and the United Way of Van Wert County are the sponsors of this program.

The YWCA is a United Way and Van Wert County Foundation funded agency. For more information, contact Danni Chiles, Program Director, at (419) 238-6639.

Chiles noted that she gets comments from parents, talking about how the program helps with childcare budgets, lessening the food outlay for the summer and saving money that would ordinarily be spent on child care.

“The don’t have to worry about them getting two of their meal each day. Some say it really helps to get the kids out doing something instead of sitting on the couch playing video games all day, and it keeps them out of trouble since all of our activities are supervised,” she reported.