Civic Leadership

Keeping kids fed and healthy during the summer months

It was 87 degrees, so the splash water pad at the Onna Moniz-John Park on this day was filled with frolicking kids.

Some children had worked up quite an appetite.

Thankfully, a free nutritious lunch was just a hop, skip and a jump away at picnic tables near the park’s basketball courts and swings.

“To spend the day at the park and splash station and get a free lunch on top of that,” said dad Jason Oliveira as his daughter, three-year-old Eliza, and friends enjoyed free milk, “there’s no better benefit than that.”

Managed by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) and financed through the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, the Summer Meals program provides an average of more than 300,000 meals each summer throughout Rhode Island. Multiple organizations, including the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Rhode Island Foundation, help make the program a success by spreading the word and providing other support.

The program was created to bridge the gap and help families in targeted communities – areas with at least 50 percent of the children eligible for free or reduced-price meals – keep their kids fed and healthy during the summer while schools are not in session.

More than 15 percent of Rhode Island’s children are living in families below the federal poverty threshold, says the 2023 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, and more than 46,000 children in the Ocean State receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

In East Providence, the Factbook states that 13.2 percent of the city’s children are living in families below the federal poverty threshold and 24 percent get free- and reduced breakfasts and/or lunches at school.

“We offer free, nutritious meals to all teens and children, 18 and under – no ID or paperwork required – to anyone who comes to our open sites,” said Diane Sullivan, the city’s Recreation Director. “It’s so important to have these amenities – a splash pad and a meal.”

Staff at the Onna Moniz-John Park had already given out all of its lunches in the first hour, so Sullivan and staff brought more to the park. Since its start in late June, an average of 20-25 meals are dispersed by the Summer Meals program daily, Monday through Friday, weather permitting, at this city site, which is one of several participating meal sites.

Additional Summer Meals program locations, dates, and details can be found here.