Hoping to combat hunger and the issues that accompany it, the Peninsula Public Library in Lawrence once again is teaming with Long Island Cares this summer to serve children 18 and under lunch in three locations.
The library kicked off the summer food program on Monday, serving meals in its children’s section. The program, now in its fourth year, will run until Aug. 28. In its first two years, it served breakfast, but attendance was not as high as expected, according to PPL Director Carolynn Matulewicz, who explained the importance of offering such a program, so the service was changed to lunch.
“In the Lawrence School District, 75 percent of the kids are on a free or reduced-price meal plan,” Matulewicz said. “We want to be a place where children are able to eat for free with school being out.” She added that Lawrence Primary School in Inwood would offer free lunches to children on Wednesdays throughout the summer.
In 2010, a Hunger in America study found that 39 percent of Long Islanders who receive emergency food are children under 18. “While children are among the largest single population of hungry, they have virtually no voice,” the study stated. “Their needs are easily dismissed and overlooked, and they must rely on others to access the feeding programs and services they need.”
The library served meals to only three children on opening day, but Matulewicz said that attendance usually varies. “Some days, we’ve had 40 to 50 kids in the library eating,” she said. “I think today was a little slower, because it’s right after a holiday weekend and it’s our first day doing it this summer.” The program is coordinated with the Five Towns Community Center’s summer camp in Lawrence, which at times contributes to the uptick in meals served.
There were no takers of a free meal until Y.Y. Polansky walked over to the children’s section to see what was going on. Y.Y.’s younger brother, Tan, eventually joined him to snack on some apples and carrots. They seemed to have their hunger sated for the time being, and Tan shouted, “I’m full!” before leaving with his brother and grandmother.
The Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares is a nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry. “Our goals,” its website states, “are to improve food security for families, sponsor programs that help families achieve self-sufficiency, and educate the general public about the causes and consequences of hunger on Long Island.”
Lynbrook resident Susan Silkowitz has volunteered at the library for the past two summers. “I enjoy working with kids, and I’ve worked with Long Island Cares before,” she said. “I also find it satisfying to volunteer and help others.” She added that the food choices vary, but the first day’s menu included chicken nuggets, carrots, an apple and chocolate milk.
Silkowitz, who said she volunteers at other Long Island Cares programs, such as the coat drive it holds each winter, explained that the food program involves some training, because there are certain rules to follow. “The children can’t just grab the food and walk away,” she said. “They have to sit down at the table and eat it. We don’t want them giving it to other people.”
Matulewicz said that the children can explore what the library has to offer while grabbing a bite to eat. “This is a great partnership we’ve created with Long Island Cares,” she said. “It’s great to be able to serve the community in a different way than we usually do with this program. We not only want to feed the children, but we also want them to read some books while eating nutritious food at the library.”
The library is at 280 Central Ave. in Lawrence. The food program will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays through Aug. 28 at Lawrence Primary School, at the Number Two School, at 1 Donahue Ave. in Inwood, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.