As children scrambled to play on a sunny afternoon at Lake Meridian Park, Lynne Mayer stood by her lunch-time servers huddled under a picnic shelter.
For many energetic kids in Kent, the spacious park is not only a great place to run, jump, climb and swim, it’s also a convenient hub to grab some nutritious grub.
Mayer makes sure of that. As the Summer Meals supervisor for the Kent School District, Mayer has been fiercely dedicated to ending summer hunger since she began the daunting task more than 10 years ago.
“We’re just happy to be involved in our community, involved in our kids … to be the best that they can be,” she said.
For being at her best, Mayer has been recognized as a local champion.
No Kid Hungry, a national anti-hunger campaign, has chosen the Covington woman as one of five 2019 Summer Meals Heroes.
“It was a big surprise. I had no idea,” said Mayer, who has worked in the Kent School District for 29 years. “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Our goal is to do the best that we can for the kids in Kent … make sure they have good nutrition and do everything we can to provide fresh and nutritious meals.”
Contest winners included individuals from school districts and organizations throughout the country who were nominated by members of their local community. No Kid Hungry Summer Heroes are those who have gone above and beyond to find innovative ways to make summer meals accessible and fun for kids living with hunger.
State Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Covington, along with program partners and Kent school officials, joined Mayer for an impromptu award ceremony Thursday at the park.
In 2016, Mayer noticed a large group of kids playing at Lake Meridian Park and reached out to the city of Kent Parks and Recreation Department to develop a strategy to offer Summer Meals. She has since expanded service at the park by offering hands-on enrichment activities, in addition to meals.
Lake Meridian Park is one of the largest summer meal sites in the program.
“Lynne is passionate about serving her community and doesn’t say no when a need is identified,” said Sara Seelmeyer, food security coordinator for the United Way of King County. “She thinks strategically and aims to meet families where they are, in order to ensure that every child in Kent is able to access Summer Meals.”
The Kent School District serves nearly 15,000 low-income students in King County, where nearly 1 in 6 kids face hunger.
Summer can be the hungriest time of year for many children from low-income families, program coordinators said. When schools close, students no longer get school meals, and families struggle to put food on the table. Summer hunger can have a long-term impact on a child’s health, ability to learn and general well-being. No Kid Hungry and its partners focus on connecting kids to the national Summer Meals program as a critical way to end childhood hunger, program leaders said.
“Reaching kids during the summer months can be a tough nut to crack, but I’m so inspired by the innovative work happening in communities all across the country,” said No Kid Hungry Senior Vice President Lisa Davis. “Thanks to everyday heroes like the passionate folks we’re celebrating today, many more kids will return to school this fall well-nourished and ready to learn.”
Free nutritious meals are available for children and teens 18-years-old and younger at select locations throughout the Kent School District each summer. From early July to late August. Staff serve free meals at local schools, apartment complexes, city parks and other locations.
The Summer Meals program is provided in partnership between Kent School District Nutrition Services, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Learn more at kent.k12.wa.us/summermeals