The line of youngsters inside the Mid-Continent Public Library North Branch in Independence is giggling and excited.
Many of them cradle a book in one hand while they select a variety of healthy snacks with their other hand.
“This is so cool,” Mike, 9, said. “I always liked the library. Now, I can get a book and get some food. I can’t read when I’m hungry.”
Neither can most of Mike’s contemporaries in the metro area.
To help alleviate summer childhood hunger, Harvesters, the community food network, is offering its summer feeding program, Kids Cafe, at more than 65 sites this summer including three Mid-Continent Public Library branches in Eastern Jackson County.
“Summer can be a challenging time for many children whose families struggle with food security,” said Christen Stein, the library’s associate director for public services. “By hosting Harvesters’ Kids Cafe program at our branches, we can serve as a temporary solution to this community concern until schools are back in session.”
Working with the USDA and the states of Kansas and Missouri, Harvesters’ Kids Cafe offers free summer meals.
The summer theme, “Meet and Eat,” welcomes all children and teens ages 18 and younger to come and meet up with their friends and enjoy a healthy meal. Many sites provide activities as well.
Mid-Continent will offer numerous free programs as part of its annual Summer Learning Program, which encourages kids and teens to stay intellectually engaged over the summer months.
“It’s a great program, and are seeing many youngsters at branches across the city taking part in it,” said Mid-Continent’s Grandview branch manager, Ashley Durkee. “Over the next two months, we expect to serve over 1,500 meals.”
All summer sites accept walk-ins and do not require pre-registration. Mid-Continent Public Library’s Kids Café sites will be in operation until Aug. 10.
“And we only have two rules – you must be 18 or under and you must consume the food in the library,” Durkee said. “We were concerned that some children might be getting the food and not eating it themselves. We want this program to be for the kids.”
The local Mid-Continent Public Library sites are:
• South Independence, 13700 E. 35th St. Food served 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
• North Independence, 317 West U.S. 24. Food served 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• Buckner, 19 E. Jefferson Street. Food served 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Mid-Continent also has the program at its Grandview, Red Bridge and Riverside branches.
“Partnering with Harvesters has been great, and really made an impact in helping young people in the metro area,” Durkee said. “We’re now able to feed their minds while they are eating healthy snacks.”