2018-07-26 / Around Town

Program Brings Food and Fun

By Eliza Radeka


Volunteer Shanise Hernandez, age 15, passes out nutritious lunches prepared by Charwells as part of the Summer Meal Program. 
(Photo by Jen Carter) Volunteer Shanise Hernandez, age 15, passes out nutritious lunches prepared by Charwells as part of the Summer Meal Program. (Photo by Jen Carter) Public parks around Newport are a little more crowded this summer, thanks to the Summer Meals Program that provides free, healthy meals to children under age 18, regardless of the family’s income level.

Anyone visiting the parks during lunchtime Monday through Friday may have noticed the dark blue coolers surrounded by young children. The kids come from all over the community not only to enjoy a healthy meal, but also to play and make friends.

Volunteers usually place the coolers in a shaded area near the park entrances or play equipment. Since the program has been running for several weeks now, most children know where to find them. However, volunteers will also approach children playing in the parks and ask them if they’d like a free lunch.

While more than 1,400 Newport students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals throughout the school year, some miss out on nutritious meals when school is out of session. The Summer Meals Program bridges this gap, ensuring that children have access to healthy food year-round.


Free books are being given away on Thursdays at Miantonomi Park. They have been donated by the Newport Public Library. Dad Darrell Smith chooses books with his sons Ka’von and Kor’del. (Photo by Jen Carter) Free books are being given away on Thursdays at Miantonomi Park. They have been donated by the Newport Public Library. Dad Darrell Smith chooses books with his sons Ka’von and Kor’del. (Photo by Jen Carter) In Rhode Island, the service provides around 450,000 meals. Chartwells, the district’s food provider, prepares and transports the food to the various locations. Volunteers at each site unload the coolers that keep the food fresh.

Since Chartwells was hired as the food service provider for the Newport School District in 2011, the program has grown from five to 11 sites. Miantonomi Park is generally the busiest site, serving up to 45 meals per day, according to Cindy King, director of dining services for Chartwells.

Shanise Hernandez, a sophomore at Rogers High School who runs the Miantonomi Park site, has been part of the program for two summers.

“It’s good to do this because I get to be outside and helping out,” she said.

Volunteers track the number of meals handed out daily in order to plan for the coming weeks. At some of the sites, like Vernon Park, there is regular attendance. Vernon Park hosts the Newport Recreation summer camps, which enroll many children who benefit from the free lunch program.

According to camp counselor Sabrina Johnson, the Vernon Park site goes through about 30 lunches per day, which are mostly distributed to summer camp attendees.

“If there are other kids playing at the park who don’t go to our camp, we always offer them lunches,” she said.

Children can expect to munch on fruit or vegetables, tuna fish sandwiches with cucumbers, salad shakers, milk and other healthy snacks.

“They even have [non-nut butters] instead of peanut butter, in case of allergies, so they really make it fit for everybody,” said Johnson.

Volunteers across the various sites are working to attract more children to the program. By offering activities like soccer, dodgeball, music lessons, reading and more, volunteers encourage children to spend time being active and having fun.

At the Salvation Army site, the program has been running for two weeks. During the first week, about six children showed up each day for lunch.

The Salvation Army site provides children with brass instrumental music lessons each day, and it hopes to perform a small concert by the end of the summer. Volunteers also offer an optional church program.

At Miantonomi Park, children who participate in the program also have access to activities provided by the Newport Open Space Partnership. The partnership sets up games and brings in volunteers from the Newport Public Library to read to children.

“It’s so great when kids are here for the books and they get to eat while they read,” said Vanessa Soares of Open Space. “I know that these families really do appreciate the lunch.”

Mother of four, Erin, from Fall River, recently visited Miantonomi Park with her children, who enjoyed the free lunches and Open Space activities. She said she was happy they liked the lunch, but especially happy seeing them making friends and playing in the park.

“They loved it so much that every day since we went they’ve been asking me to go back,” she said.

Meal Sites and Times

Aquidneck Park–Spring St., through Aug. 24, 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. (Monday through Wednesday, and Fridays, field trips on Thursdays)

Vernon Park–Freeborn St., through Aug. 24, 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. (Monday through Thursday, field trips on Fridays)

Miantonomi Park–Hillside Ave., through Aug. 31, noon -1 p.m.

Bayside Village–Third St., through Aug. 31, noon -1 p.m.

Chapel Terrace–Chapel St., through Aug. 31, 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.

Festival Field Apartments– Girard Ave., through Aug. 31, 11:45 a.m. -12:45 p.m.

Salvation Army–Memorial Bvld., through Aug. 24, noon -12:30 p.m. (No service on Monday, Aug. 13)

Boys & Girls Club – York St., through Aug. 17, 8 - 8:15 a.m. (Breakfast, no service, Friday, Aug. 10)

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