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Free summer meal program keeps BH kids healthy

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- For the second summer, the Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor is giving out free meals and snacks to kids who need it while school is out.

“It’s a home away from home,” Latoya Turner, a program coordinator, said. “We’re family.”

And family feeds family.

A lot of kids in Benton Harbor rely on school breakfast and lunch programs to eat each day, but when summer comes, those meals go away.

“Last year we served just under 19,000 meals and snacks during the summer,” said Brian Saxton, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club.

Hot and healthy meals are served, free of charge, every summer day to kids in Benton Harbor.

“Either they don’t have it at home, so it’s helping out, or it’s just – they definitely need it in the community,” Turner said.

She has worked at the club for two years after sending her son, Eric, to it 10 years ago when he was just six.

“When I saw the major impact it had on my son, I knew I had to be there,” Turner said.

She’s always worked two jobs, so the club’s afterschool programming and meals during the school year came as a big help.

“It was very convenient,” she said. “Like, I know he was in good hands and he was fed. That’s very important.”

Her son was in such good hands that he now works at the Boys & Girls Club as a youth staffer.

“I’m blessed that I’m here,” Eric Johnson said. “The food be delicious. Sports-wise, I love sports. I’m just very blessed that I’m here.”

That impact led Saxton and his team to develop a summer meal program with help from funding from the state.

He said giving the kids a chance to break bread while out of school helps further the club’s goals of developing good character and leadership.

“There’s nothing better than sitting down and learning how to sit and have a meal with your friends or with the adults,” Saxton said.

Any child under the age of 18 – and any special needs adult under the age of 26 – can come get a free meal at the club throughout the summer.

Lunch is served at the Boys & Girls Club’s youth campus every Monday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., with snack served from 2 to 3 p.m.

At the nearby Teen Center on West Empire Avenue, snack is served every Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner is served from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Free dinner is also available at Union and Broadway parks in Benton Harbor every Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Lastly, free lunch is available at Hollywood School in Stevensville every Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.

If you’d like to become a member of the Boys & Girls Club, you can pick up an application at the club, and a one-year membership fee is only $5 (you read that right).

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