Niles summer parks participants enjoying free lunches

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Joann Edwards is team leader for a Salvation Army group that distributes free lunches for the children who participate in the city's summer Parks Program.
The program started June 9, and ends August 8.
The Summer Parks Program gives children in Niles the opportunity to spend their summer holiday playing with other children and going on field trips while under the supervision of adults.
The free lunches were made available to the city through a United States Department of Agriculture grant.
Edwards thinks the free lunches are important not only for the children, but also for the childrens' parents.
Edwards works with three other people employed by the Salvation Army to distribute the free lunches.
She said in total between 130 and 170 free lunches are given out each day at Southside Park, Eastside Park, Cherry Street Park and the YMCA, which are the Summer Parks Program's four main locations.
However, the children who take part in the city's Summer Parks Program also go on field trips to venues such as the South Bend Chocolate Factory, Fernwood Botanical Gardens and other area attractions.
Joe Racht is the Summer Parks Program supervisor at Eastside Park on 17th Street in Niles.
Racht, who finished college this year and will be doing his student teaching in second grade at Eastside School this fall, said the free lunches are important to the Parks Program.
He said the lunches come prepackaged and always contain meat, fruit and vegetables to ensure the children get the nutrition they need for an activity filled day.
Racht said in addition to the free lunches, the Salvation Army also brings out a breakfast snack each morning between 9 and 9:30 a.m.
He said Wednesday's free lunch consisted of small pre-packaged home made pizzas, and the morning snack consisted of muffins and milk.
Courtney Connell was among the between 60 to 65 children at Eastside Park Wednesday.
Having been physically active most of the morning, Connell said she is glad lunch is free.
D'Nisha Zona, sitting in a shaded spot at a park bench enjoying her meal next to Connell, couldn't agree more.
Emmaleigh Smith is one of the summer parks program counselors at Eastside Park.
The pre-med student at Michigan State University said it's hard work taking care of the energetic and playful young children.

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