MARIETTA — Upwards of 100,000 children at schools and summer camps across the county are expected to receive breakfast or lunch provided by Marietta City Schools this summer, easing some local concern over lack of available meals.

The Marietta City School District has prepared and provided meals to children who need them through the summer months for more than a decade, according to Cindy Culver, director of school nutrition. In the summer of 2011, the district served 19,000 meals, and in 2018, it served 80,000, Culver said.

She said the program continues to grow each year, and this summer the district is also delivering its meals to schools in the Marietta and Cobb districts.

“This is the first year that we’ve delivered. What we have done year after year is we produce all the food, and all of our camps — Custer Park and Cumberland Christian and all these other locations — they actually come and pick up the food,” she said. “That’s our agreement. We’re here to make food, and as long as you come and pick it up, because it’s a federal program, then it is a free meal for them.”

Culver said the Seamless Summer Option program, which falls under the authority of the USDA National School Lunch Program and the Georgia Department of Education, ensures children receive a meal comparable to what they receive during the school year. She said requirements include a balance of fruits, vegetables and proteins.

The summer lunch programs are of dire importance, Culver said, because they serve children who are most in need. Each site for which Marietta City Schools provide meals is in or near a school where more than 50% of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, she said.

“Hunger doesn’t stop when school ends,” Culver said.

Culver said Marietta City Schools will offer meals in 40 locations through July 27. The first day of school is Aug. 1 in both Cobb and Marietta.

Culver also said the district has been in contact with MUST Ministries to discuss a partnership. The nonprofit organization, whose volunteers prepared sandwiches at home for 259,154 children across seven counties last summer, was barred in April from serving food that is not prepared in a certified kitchen. The ministry sent out an SOS — Save Our Sandwiches — last month, asking community members to donate to pay for pre-made sandwiches.

Culver said a partnership with MUST Ministries could be a win-win.

“Their power is in numbers, as far as volunteers. Our power is in the food, because that’s what we do every day is make food for kids,” she said.

If a partnership with MUST Ministries is realized, Culver said, the nonprofits vast volunteer base could pick up hundreds more meals and deliver them to “pockets that we can’t get into.”

Ike Reighard, president of MUST Ministries, agreed. Reighard said while the timing didn’t pan out this summer, he looks forward to continuing discussions about a partnership in later years. When local health department conclusions interrupted the organization’s supply of sandwiches, MUST Ministries had to immediately turn to a national pre-packaged sandwich company, the nonprofit reported last month.

“It just didn’t work out for us to be able to do it on such short notice, but hopefully in the years to come, we can find some ways to work together,” Reighard said. “We are obviously having to rethink everything about how we’re doing summer lunch in the years ahead.”

Reighard added that a larger distribution network serving more children higher quality food would be just a few of the benefits of a partnership with the Marietta School District.

While breakfast and lunches will be available at some schools in the Cobb County School District, the district is only hosting, not preparing or delivering, the meals. Culver said she plans to continue expanding to more schools in Cobb County in the future and already serves a school in Paulding County.

About 228 schools across the state participate in Seamless Summer Option, and there are more than 2,000 sites supported by local schools and community organizations, according to Linette Dodson, Georgia’s school nutrition director.

Dodson said the same staff who work to prepare lunches during the school year help make the summer meals.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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