During lunch at Atlanta’s Whitefoord Summer Camp, director Oneisha Freeman chats with Savannah Kroger and Zion Freeman. Most of the campers receive free or reduced meals.
By Ann Hardie
For the AJC
The 120 or so kids at the Whitefoord Summer Camp in southeast Atlanta are very, very busy. They’re brushing up on their reading and math. They’re making videos and designing websites. And some of teenagers have taken to the road as part of a cycling program. But the kids, rising kindergarteners through high schoolers, can’t do any of that well if they’re bellies are rumbling. Almost all of the kids at this camp get free or reduced price breakfast and lunch during the school year. They get those meals, here, too, plus a snack. Other kids aren’t so lucky. More than one in every four Georgia children don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to the charity Feeding America. Oneisha Freeman, director of Whitefoord’s summer camp, talked about making sure that kids get enough food, and nutritious food at that.
Q: From where you sit, how does hunger affect children?
A: Our goal here is to help kids increase their reading or technology skills or be creative. If the kids come here and they are hungry, they are going to focus on that and not on what they need to do. Also, it is hot now. It is important that our teenagers, especially those in the cycling program, be fed and hydrated or they run the risk of injuries or health issues.
Q: What are their drink choices?
A: Milk and water. That’s it. We don’t serve juices. We make sure kids are going to the water fountain — a lot.
Q: Do you have children with diet-related health issues?
A: We deal with issues of obesity and diabetes. Some of our children have dental issues.
Q: Do you know how many of your kids would go hungry if you didn’t provide these federally-funded meals?
A: I don’t. We tell families that their kids can bring their own food. I would say 90 percent don’t.
Q: Do your kids eat during the evening or on weekends when you aren’t open?
A: Honestly, I don’t know. When they are here, we make sure every child goes through the food service line.
Q: Your food program focuses not only on making sure kids are fed, but that they also learn how to eat, correct?
A: The food we serve is based on the USDA guidelines. Our food service provider — Quality Care for Children and Project Open Hand — also do nutrition workshops for the children. When the kids leave here, they have been educated about what a healthy lifestyle looks like.
Q: Can kids teach parents proper nutrition?
A: Definitely. Children are seeing what a balanced meal looks like. Some will have to eat what their parents put in front of them. Others may say, “Why don’t we get some broccoli or salad?” They can take what they learn and have an influence on their families.
Q: Should we be paying more attention to kids’ hunger?
A: I can’t speak for everyone but we have done as much as we can to expose the kids and their families to the importance of good nutrition and making better choices. I tell the teenagers, “Your actions not only affect you but the people around you. If you are eating better and taking care of your bodies, you can have a ripple effect.”
Q: Given that, how is your diet?
A: Terrible. I am working so much that I don’t stop to eat. I am going to clean up my act. I am inspired to eat better.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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