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Library program filling minds & stomachs

A local volunteer serves a child during a recent “Lunch at the Library” program. (RUTH BOYER / Courtesy)
A local volunteer serves a child during a recent “Lunch at the Library” program. (RUTH BOYER / Courtesy)
By DAVID SCHOLZ
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez Library’s Lunch at the Library program continues next week with Mayor Rob Schroder and Police Chief Manjit Sappal scheduled to serve as special guest readers.

The local lunch program is designed to combat hunger and fill the summer nutrition gap among area youth as part of a statewide collaboration between the California Library Association and California Summer Meal Coalition to unite libraries and summer meal providers.

“Many low-income children face nutrient deficiencies when school closes for the summer break,” said Martinez Librarian Ruth Boyer.

Lunch at the Library – the first time Martinez is hosting the summer program with the support of the Martinez Unified School District – is taking place Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from 12-1 p.m. through Aug. 10.

Special guest readers are part of a variety of free activities that include arts & crafts, Legos and movies that have been lined up for area youth.

Paula Onofrio, a general manager with Sodexo who works as a consultant to the District and manages its food service program, hopes the program will initially serve an estimated 30 meals per day, growing to 50 meals per day.

“Our menu will consist of items such as chicken alfredo, burgers and fries, chicken strips with potato salad, and burritos,’’ Onofrio said.

“We will also have cold sandwiches, but from our past experience with summer feeding, the kids seem to enjoy a hot lunch more than a cold lunch.’’

The menu for the program meets all state and federal regulations, so calorie content, low sodium and offering a meat, grain, choice of milk and a fresh fruit or vegetable have to be factored into each meal.

Addressing the health need goes hand in hand with preventing the dreaded intellectual summer slide that occurs when the focus on academics takes a back seat at the end of the school year.

“You want them reading and keeping them learning and active,’’ Boyer said.

While the library has no idea how many children will turn out, Boyer received “a very enthusiastic and positive’’ response from children who she met during her visits to Martinez schools during the past school year to promote the upcoming summer program.

Boyer explained that activities planned in the lower level activity room of the library will be arranged in stations in the space. In one corner there will be the guest readers who will start reading at 12:15 p.m., while in other corners there will be other activities. Children will be able to rotate from station to station so they can make something to take home after the storytime activity is concluded.

Looking ahead to the rest of this month and July, here are scheduled guests:

• June 22, Police Chief Manjit Sappal

• June 23, Martinez Mayor Schroder

• June 28, July 1, and July 26 : Mary Pickett, an investigator from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Investigation Unit, will be on hand with the office’s dog, Jo Jo. The dog provides emotional comfort to children and adult who are being interviewed and appear in court to provide testimony.

Kiwanis and Rotary members also will be on hand to give their time to help with serving the lunches.

“This is as community as you can get,’’ said Boyer of the time different organizations are giving to this endeavor.

Also part of Lunch at the Library program, starting next week and continuing the program’s conclusion in August, there be will be a table on the side where free produce donated by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano will be available for parents and guardians of the children who are taking part.

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