LACONIA — 1,051 of the 1,837 students enrolled in the Laconia public schools this year qualified for the free and reduced-price lunch program, offered to those from households with incomes lower than 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level. At 57 percent, the proportion was exceeded only by Franklin at 60 percent and a half-dozen towns in the North Country.
In the summer, when school is out, many of these children are served by one of the two programs offered in the city — the Summer Food Service Program operated by the Community Action Program (CAP) of Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc. and Got Lunch!, a collaborative effort of more than 70 individuals, businesses and churches founded 2011.
Randy Emerson of CAP said that the Summer Food Service Program, which like the free and reduced lunch program during the school year is a food and nutrition initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture, has served children in the city for the past decade. Free breakfast and lunch are provided weekdays at six locations — Laconia High School, Laconia Middle School, Woodland Heights Elementary School, Pleasant Street Elementary School, Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region and Opechee Day Camp. Lunch only is provided at Blueberry Place.
"We partner with the School District and the Parks and Recreation Department," Emerson said. "We go where the kids are, the reading programs at the schools and the parks." He said that children receive brown bag breakfasts and lunches with a different balanced menu, including fruit and vegetables, each day.
The Got Lunch! program began in 2011, when it served 314 children in 154 families, and by 2013 had reached 556 children in 266 families. Rev. Paula Gile of the Congregational Church of Laconia said that before stating the program she and others met with officials of the School District and found that the need was greater than the Summer Food Service Program satisfies, since children are enrolled in summer educational programs students for short periods of time. Likening the Summer Food Service Program to school lunches, she said that "it is not a consistent source of food in the summer when children are only at school for short periods."
For families who register with the Got Lunch! program volunteers provide an assortment of groceries on Monday of each week. "It's enough for lunches for ten weeks," Gile said. Moreover, she stressed that no qualifications or proof of need are required for families to participate in the program.
"Laconia is a high need region," Emerson remarked.
The Summer Food Service Program will offer meals this summer according the the following schedule:
— Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region: Monday through Friday from June 23 through August 22. Breakfast from 8 to 9 and lunch from noon to 1.
— Laconia Middle School: Monday through Thursday from July 7 through August 8. Breakfast from 7:30 to 8:15 and lunch from 11:30 to noon.
— Pleasant Street School: Monday through Friday from June 30 through August 8. Breakfast from 8 to 9 and lunch from 11:30 to 12:30.
— Woodland Heights School: Monday through Thursday from July 14 through August 7. Breakfast from 8 to 8:30 and lunch. No lunch.
— Opechee Day Camp: Monday through Friday from June 23 through August 15. Breakfast from 8 to 8:30 and lunch from noon to 12:30.
— Laconia High School: Monday through Thursday from July 7 through August 8. Breakfast from 8 to 8:30 and lunch from noon to 12:30.
— Blueberry Place: Monday through Friday from June 23 through August 18. No breakfast. Lunch from 11:45 to 12:15.