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Open Table Kids Food Programs

Fuel Up for Summer Success

If not for the Open Table’s lunch and smack packs, “we probably wouldn’t have had lunch this summer.”

For the third year, Open Table’s Fuel Up For Summer program has provided free weekly lunch and snack packs for local families who find it financially challenging to provide nutritious lunches for their children during the summer. With this program, Open Table stood in the gap created by the suspension of most public school meal programs over the summer months. Over 3500 lunches were served during the eight weeks of the program, from June 20 to August 17.

The lunch and snack packs consisted of three sandwiches— typically turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, and nut butter and jelly, along with sides of raw carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes or blueberries. Three individually portioned snack foods such as granola bars or goldfish crackers were included as well as fruit, such as apples, raisins, fruit cups and milk or juice boxes.

Comments received from families give an indication of the impact of the program. For example:

“By mid-month, my bank account typically gets to a zero balance. The kids’ summer lunches really helped provide free, kid-friendly, quick lunches during those lean times.”

If not for these packs, “I would have less food to give them and would resort to less healthy options like processed food.”

“My kids would have had less food/choices and less nutritional options for lunch, more ramen or leftovers like plain pasta.”

Also evidence of the positive impact of the Fuel Up For Summer program is the explosive growth of the program since its beginning three years ago. Not well known in its first year, the program was slow to get off the ground. There was strong growth in the second year, and by this year, clients were familiar with the program, having heard about it  through their child’s school, from Open Table, or from a friend or neighbor. 

Over 3000 of the lunches were distributed through Open Table on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the center, and to clients in Maynard, Concord, and Carlisle through the Home Delivery program. Last year the program was expanded through a partnership with Acton Food Pantry. Open Table provided Acton with the sandwiches, and they were able to supplement with snacks, fruit, and beverages for their clients.

This year brought a third channel of distribution. Open Table was able to provide lunch and snack packs for children of families living in the shelter at the former Best Western who were enrolled in Concord Recreation’s summer camp program. For this expansion, there were challenges to be overcome. The packs had to be delivered daily since the families had no means to keep the fresh food refrigerated. And, because most of the children were recent immigrants to the United States, the food content of the packs had to be adjusted to accommodate their different tastes.

All those sandwiches being made each week meant a very big organizational effort for Open Table and its kitchen. Meghan Ray, an intern with the summer program last year, was hired this year to manage the summer internship program. Each intern is with Open Table for two weeks and helps to assemble the packs and create the nutrition labels, while also learning about food insecurity and running a nonprofit organization.

Feedback surveys were sent to all clients. Their comments and the experience of the volunteers and staff resulted in suggestions for how to further enhance the program next year. But overwhelmingly families were pleased with how the summer program improved the nutritional quality of what their kids were eating. Quality of family life was improved because of the convenience, and the financial stress of meeting a monthly budget was relieved a little.