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Satisfying hunger: Federal program provides free summer lunch in Perham

Trisha Marczak/FOCUS Carter Aakre, 9, (front), Mick Meter, 9, (middle) and Devin Meyer, 8, share a free lunch together at the high school cafeteria before heading out to baseball practice. The free lunch program is funded through the USDA.

No such thing as a free lunch?

Think again.

This summer, free breakfasts and lunches are provided to all children ages 1 to 18 through a USDA summer food service program.

Perham was designated as a site after census results revealed area income levels qualified for the federally funded program.

It's the first summer Perham has qualified, but the concept certainly isn't new. Hundreds of schools from throughout the state serve as lunch sites, including neighbors Wadena and Detroit Lakes.

While funding for the program is divvied out based on area income levels, there are no qualifications for youth who wish to dine. Students must only meet one guideline: they have to be between the ages of 1 and 18. Whether or not they live in the Perham area is a non-issue.

"If they come in the door, we feed them," said Laura Bjerke, director of food services. "We're an open site."

At the start of the program, things seem to be running smoothly. Bjerke said they were hoping to serve 200 meals a day, between breakfast and lunch. So far, they're serving just over that.

On-school program participants are some of those reaping the rewards of the program. Athletes are another group that are able to easily come in and have a free meal before heading out for training or exercise programs.

That was the case for four baseball players Monday. Michael Benke, 10, Devin Meyer, 8, Mick Meyer, 9 and Carter Aakre, 9, all caught a quick bite to eat for lunch before heading out to baseball practice.

The USDA meals are held to nutritional standards, Bjerke said. Every meal must contain 2 ounces of protein, a half cup of fruits and vegetables, one milk serving and one serving of grain.

To add a little something extra to the daily breakfast and lunch times, a book exchange center is set up in the cafeteria. The program, which incorporates books for students and parents, is intended to create a steady flow of book sharing in the community.

The summer program serves breakfasts from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. and lunches from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria Monday through Thursday through Aug. 25. Registration is not required. Adult meals are available for $3.50.