ELYRIA — At first, Alayzia Jackson stated flat out, “I don’t like any of the food here.”
But the longer she thought about it, the 9-year-old fourth-grader at Windsor Elementary School conceded that, in addition to enjoying the daily snack time at Elyria’s Boys & Girls Club, she also looks forward to tacos, popcorn and the apparent all-time kids’ champion food — “pizza!”
“I just ate two bags of popcorn,” chirped Deon Fennell, 9, as he also asserted “bananas” as another personal favorite.
Yogurt and juices got a mention from Alayzia, while the center’s daily snack time got a big endorsement from Malik Felder, 9, who will enter the fourth-grade this year at Crestwood Elementary School.
“I like the fruits, like grapes and stuff,” Malik said.
Kids weren’t the only ones giving a big endorsement to the club’s summertime meals program.
Audrey Rowe, U.S. Department of Agriculture food and nutrition service administrator, praised the Elyria Boys & Girls Club for its efforts to ensure that needy children up to 18 are fed through a program that provides about 675 food-filled backpacks to local youngsters to get them through weekends when meals are not available.
“It is a model program and an innovative one for a number of reasons, including having parents volunteer so many hours a week,” according to Rowe, who was touting the crucial need for such programs during a multiday stop of similar food programs across Northeast Ohio.
The backpack program provides fruits, vegetables, crackers, milk, snack foods and other items to hungry children throughout the year.
The backpack program is run by the Second Harvest Foodbank of North Central Ohio, which provides some food to the Elyria club.
Rowe toured the Lorain foodbank before arriving in Elyria about an hour behind schedule Tuesday because of the heavy storms that swept across the area.
About 500 youngsters have been fedthe past several years through a summer food service program offered by the Boys & Girls Club. That program uses a mix of state funds and food donations, its own money and food from Second Harvest, according to Monica Snipes, area director of food programs for the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Most of the children being fed are 6 to 12 years of age.
“Kids are hungry,” executive director Mike Conibear said. “The need gets bigger every summer.”
On Tuesday, about 60 children lined up around a curving counter to be served a lunch of hotdogs, corn and chocolate milk.
Many of the youngsters who come to the center each day for food and fun are from single-parent households where that parent — in most cases, a mom — works during the day and can’t be home to care or feed their kids, according to Conibear.
As impressed as she was by what she saw, Rowe remains troubled by the swelling need for such programs.
“The need is always greater than what can be provided to meet it,” Rowe said. “This is a community responsibility.”
One obvious example of such partnerships is found in the center’s slick-looking computer lab, which was made possible with the donation of 15 computers from the LeBron James Family Foundation.
The charitable organization begun by the NBA superstar also gave the club $110,000 grant that went toward upgrades including construction of a multipurpose outdoor court made of brightly colored blue and orange plastic tiles that can be used for basketball, volleyball and tennis.
“This is the kind of program that makes sure these kids are not in the streets,” Rowe said. “They have a place to go.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.