RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s summer meal program for kids and teens under the age of 18 has been feeding kids for decades. On Tuesday, July 19, Richmond officials got together to promote the program.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, along with city Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, were present at an outdoor event highlighting the Richmond program where kids can pick up meals twice a day throughout the summer.

“You can’t be hungry to learn if you’re just plain hungry,” Stoney said.

The program applies to all Richmond children and has 30 sites throughout Richmond. Families can text FOOD or COMIDA to 304-304 to find sites in their zip code.

The program, which is organized by Richmond’s Parks and Recreation Department, serves about 1,300 meals daily.

“We have to build the safety net for our children. And what we try to prevent each and every day is children falling through the cracks,” Stoney said. “That means children going home, children getting involved in crime. We want to create successful pathways for our children, and that’s why it’s very, very important that we focus on food insecurity. “

The event was held at Randolph Community Center, one of the sites, where dozens of children were present and listened to the governor and others speak before being served food and milk. There was also a basketball court, playground and bounce house for them to enjoy afterwards.

Raqiyah Waajid, the Recreation Services Manager who oversees the summer meal program, said it is so important for children in Richmond, especially because about 40% live below the poverty line.

“This is an amazing program — we’ve been doing it, again, the city of Richmond itself, for 40 years, I’ve been in charge of it since 2016 and I’ve seen where it’s a need,” Waajid said.

During the event, Stoney issued a proclamation stating that July 19 would be “Summer Meals Day”, highlighting the importance of feeding children all year-round.

The program is mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which gives $600,000 a year to fund the program.

Waajid said before the pandemic, they were working with about 150 sites but now there’s only 30. She said this is mostly due to supply chain shortages, causing food to be more expensive, and companies not being comfortable with congregate feeding due to COVID-19.

Waajid said the program usually has a vendor but did not have one this year. She said the USDA and the Virginia Department of Agriculture let the Parks and Recreation Department do an option for a central kitchen, which allows the department to run everything themselves.

She said while the USDA will reimburse them for about 90 to 95% of all their spending, they won’t reimburse them for all of it. They are using local food vendors to feed the kids.

She said the main goal of the program is to feed all kids in Richmond who don’t have access to nutritious meals every day, especially during the summer when free or reduced lunches aren’t available.

“We just really want to make sure all of our children in the city of Richmond are fed — I want to say we have a 24% poverty rate, so we want to make meals accessible to all the kids.”

The program will run until August 3. Families who need additional food assistance for their children can text FOOD or COMIDA to 304-304.