FARGO - School's out for summer, and for some kids, that means it's harder to get a hot, healthy meal.

Tai Leathers, family services director for the Salvation Army, said research shows there are more than 5,000 children in the Fargo area who benefit from free and reduced-price meals at school.

"We know that hunger is an issue in this community, especially with kids out of school and not having access to free and reduced meals," Leathers said.

To combat hunger and malnutrition, the Salvation Army partnered with the USDA Summer Food Service program and the Dakota Medical Foundation to fund Mobile Outreach Meals, the first open lunch program in Fargo.

"Families struggle to make ends meet during the summer because we know food stamps don't go up. They're not getting more resources, but they have more need in the home," Leathers said.

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The M.O.M. program provides a hot meal for children up to age 18 at three carefully chosen locations around Fargo.

Leathers said statistics from the state of North Dakota show the percentage of kids who receive free and reduced-price lunches.

"The areas we identified are schools like Madison Elementary, where 50 percent or greater of their children, at least half of the kids there, receive free and reduced meals during the school year," the program director said.

No prerequisites are needed, and the meals are served Monday through Friday by a staff of about five and several volunteers.

"It's kind of nice, because doing emergency disaster work and flood stuff, we're kind of prepared to be mobile and feed, so it worked well for us to start doing the program," she said.

North Dakota State University senior Leah Rosenow decided to apply to help with the program after her internship this spring, when she helped with flooding.

She and Minnesota State University Moorhead senior Kimberly Wagner serve food at the Madison Park location.

The two workers said they generally serve the same group of kids every day and have been able to learn names and faces.

"We've been able to develop some sort of relationship with them," Rosenow said.

Even though the program has been operating since June 6, program director Leathers said they haven't reached their goals yet.

"Our numbers have been kind of low; we've been serving about 40 to 50 a day - that's all three sites combined," she said.

The program's goal for the summer is to feed between 50 and 75 kids at each site, or 150 to 225 each day.

"It's kind of like a really good-kept secret right now," Leathers said. "So we're hoping to get the word out, but the kids have a lot of fun when they come out."

Fifth-grader Brauntea Charles said he has gone to Madison Park a few times already this summer and plans to keep coming. He said the food is good - and beneficial.

"If some people don't know how to cook, they can just come here and have lunch," the 10-year-old said.

Free meals planned

M.O.M. will serve meals Monday through Friday at the following Fargo locations:

  • McCormick Park, 2109 9th Ave. S., 11 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Madison Park, 3010 11th Ave. N., noon to 12:30 p.m.
  • McKinley Elementary, 9½ Street North and 29th Avenue, 1 to 1:30 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Josie Clarey at (701) 241-5529