Methodically, the 6-year-old in a backward pink cap unpacked her lunch.
She’d accepted a roast beef sandwich, packaged slice of cheese, applesauce, fruit juicebox, 1 percent milk and cookies in a plastic-wrapped cardboard tray after receiving compliments on her pink lipstick.
Zania Gregory, a rising first-grader, said the food is good, and that she’s been coming to lunch every day at the free meals site at the Boys & Girls Club of Elizabeth City, sometimes with her brother.
The Boys & Girls Club, located at 524 South Road Street, is sponsoring a summer meals program for youth ages 6 to 18. The program, which began last week, continues through Aug. 1. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch takes place from noon to 1:30 p.m.
“We like to see them with a full tummy,” said Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Dottie Dixon.
Any community youth can come and have breakfast and/or lunch with Boys & Girls Club summer camp participants. They all sit together and place unwanted food at a “share table,” so anyone still hungry can help themselves.
LaMont Winslow, 13, was eating lunch with his brother and cousin, who are both 11, Thursday.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said of the feeding program, “because some people might go without a meal at times.”
He added, “It’s nice for them to know they can go somewhere.”
The food is “good for a camp thing,” he said.
LaMont’s mother, Pam Winslow, had brought just the two 11-year-olds to lunch on Tuesday. She said the program works with her family’s “mixed schedules,” explaining that her four children and her nephew, whom she’s watching over the summer, are in summer camps that end at different times.
“For me it works,” Pam Winslow said. “I don’t have to drive all the way back home (for lunch).”
She said she lives in Queenswood and all the camps take place in town. The environment at the Boys & Girls Club is friendly and welcoming, she said, adding that she likes the fact the kids can socialize with club campers and they “can get a little extra” food from the share table if they are not full.
Program Director Joshua Armstrong said they want to expand: “We can always serve more, and we want to serve more.”
The club is sponsoring its own program but accesses the food through the Food Bank of the Albemarle, explained Liz Reasoner, the food bank’s executive director.
The food bank, meanwhile, has four summer feeding sites of its own that are open to all children in Elizabeth City. This is the first year that program has been available, and she estimated that more than 700 meals were served among the four sites during the program’s first week last week.
“We’re very pleased with the results,” she said. “The kids are really enjoying the meals.”
The program’s two sites at the Elizabeth City Housing Authority provide lunch Mondays through Thursdays, June 16 through July 31: at Harney Park Community Center, located at 401 Harney Park, from 11 to 11:30 a.m. and at Debry Court Community Center, located at 1216 Moseley St., from 12 to 12:30 p.m.
The other two sites provide both breakfast and lunch Mondays through Fridays until Aug. 22. The Albemarle Family YMCA, located at 1240 North Road St., serves breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Girls Inc., located at 304 South Road St., serves breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and lunch from noon to 1 p.m.
A subsidy through the U.S. Department of Agriculture “enables us to provide the service,” and donations of fresh fruits and vegetables by area farmers “allows us to keep overhead costs down,” Reasoner said.
“We’re trying to utilize fresh local produce, especially during this time of year when there’s a bounty,” she said. “We hope to do more sites next summer and reach more children.”
Reasoner noted that the program strives to fill a meal gap, because so many children in Pasquotank County are eligible for free and reduced meals through the school system during the school year.
Once a week, through a contract with Montero’s Restaurant, the food bank is providing a hot lunch, Reasoner said. This week, the hot meal included tortellini with fresh steamed zucchini and squash that came from local farmers.
Five related children partaking in that meal at the Debry Court Community Center said they enjoyed it.
“This is my first time, but it’s good,” said Kezhay Bunch, 12.
“It’s important to feed the children that might not have it,” her 9-year-old sister, Kedazha Bunch, noted.
The sisters said they live in Edenton but are staying with their cousins for the week and attending vacation Bible school with them.
“I keep coming every day,” said their 8-year-old cousin Shamira Williams. She and her two brothers reside in the Housing Authority, and learned about the program from a newsletter distributed to residents.
Their lively lunch discussion included what they want to be when they grow up: a cheerleader for Shamira and a basketball player for Kezhay Bunch.
“When I get older, I want to help the children,” Kedazha Bunch stated.