For the second year in a row, kids in the Charlotte area can eat free this summer at an Atrium hospital.
For the next 11 weeks, anyone 18 and under can eat free breakfast and lunch at Atrium Health in University City. The hospital’s nutrition manager, Elaine Jones, says more than 45,000 kids in the Charlotte area are at-risk of going hungry during summer break.
“This is an opportunity for us to provide stability. I hope there won't always be a need, but right now there is absolutely a need. Throughout our city and throughout the nation for this program.”
Jones says there’s a ripple effect when children have to worry about their next meal.
“It creates chaos in your life and it has been shown that a lot of that chaos that children experience leads to the greater potential for mental health issues later on in life.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the Kids Eat Free program.
Debbie Johnson of Gastonia says it's been a lifesaver. She watches her grandchildren in Charlotte during the summer while their mother works.
“Trying to provide a variety, number one, and the kids are always hungry during the summer, so it helps financially.”
Johnson says her grandkids get a well-balanced meal, although they wonder why they can't get a cheeseburger. She says it’s also a way to get them out of the house. The program also offers books, crafts and physical activities. Atrium says it provided nearly 3,500 free meals last summer.
The program has also expanded this year to Carolinas HealthCare System in Albemarle.