SOUTH TEXAS — An ongoing free meal program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is nourishing the bodies and minds of children in low-income areas of South Texas.
The agency has been conducting Summer Foods Summer Meals programming since early June through its Expanded Food and Nutrition Education initiatives in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
“The EFNEP Summer Foods Summer Meals program is a collaborative community outreach program offering free meals, nutrition education and other opportunities to children primarily in low-income areas,” said Melissa De Leon, EFNEP agent for Hidalgo County.
De Leon said this year about 50 youths ranging in age from 5-16 are participating in the SFSM Youth Camp in Hidalgo County, while 15-20 youths ranging in age from 5-10 are participating in the camp in Cameron County.
Breakfast at the camps is from 9:15-9:45 a.m. and lunch is from 11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m., with educational hands-on activities in between. The camp in Cameron County takes place Wednesdays from June 6 to July 25 at the AgriLife Extension office in Edinburg. The camp in Hidalgo County takes place on Fridays from June 15 to July 20 at Techy Tots Learning Academy near Primera.
This summer is the fourth year the camp has been held in Hidalgo County and the third year for Cameron County.
“Transportation during the summer can be a problem for many children from low-income families because their parents work during the day and there is nobody available to take them to the program site,” she said. “Summer can be the hungriest time for many children in low-income households, so we identified sites in neighborhoods parents and children could access easily.”
De Leon said the camps provide youth with a nutritious breakfast and lunch in addition to instruction on health and nutrition from AgriLife Extension and EFNEP employees. Other community collaborators also pitch in to provide instruction on life skills and to get youth involved in fun hands-on activities.
For the Hidalgo County program, a representative from the International Bank of Commerce gave participants a lesson on saving and spending, plus instruction on the proper way to write a check. A representative from Lowes gave them instruction on how to plant and showed them how to decorate their own container pot.
De Leon said the purpose of the camps is to help address issues identified in the 2015 South Region Texas Community Future Forum related to Hidalgo County. Some of those issues included child nutrition, food insecurity, youth health issues, sustainable food systems and family issues.
“We also addressed those particular issues in our EFNEP Program Advisory group meeting, which also included various community professionals and leaders,” she said. “The camps were one of the activities we implemented as a result of those discussions.”
De Leon said the camps have grown each summer and likely will continue to add more participants as interest increases.
“Those attending the camp also receive certificates of graduation during a ceremony on the last day of the program,” she said. “The participants and their parents and caregivers really seem to appreciate the program and everything it has to offer.”
For more information on the Summer Foods Summer Meals program, contact the EFNEP office in Hidalgo County at 956-383-5721 or in Cameron County at 956-399-4015.