WASHINGTON — Paul Taylor knows what it’s like to be hungry. He knows what it’s like to not have enough food at home.
“We couldn’t just go in and out of mom’s fridge,” Taylor, 50, said of growing up in Southwest with his four sisters. “We had to eat what was there.”
Consequently, he knows personally how important free meals can be to children, because it was important to him personally siblings.
“It was good for us, because we were able to get something other than what we had,” he said.
It was from those recollections of his personal experience that Taylor, manager of the King Greenleaf Recreation Center in southwest Washington, agreed to partner with Capitol Food Bank and offer a free after-school meals program at his center.
The food bank, an organization that works to reduce hunger through a number of free meal program, reached out to King Greenleaf and Taylor accepted.
“I saw a need for a hot meals program, especially during the winter time,” Taylor said.
King Greenleaf Recreation Center has been running the program, Kid’s Café, Monday through Friday for almost four years. The program provides nutritional after-school meals to children ages 5 to 18.
The program serves about 19 children daily. It has 32 children that are signed up for the program, Taylor said.
He said he is not just trying to provide the children something to eat, but also food that is good for them.
“I go in a lot of households, and what the kids are eating is full of sodium,” he said. “It is so important that these kids receive nutritional meals.”
David*, 10, is a 4th grader at nearby Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. He said he loves attending King Greenleaf every day to play basketball and other sports.
A bonus for him, he said, is knowing he can have a hot meal. He particularly likes the macaroni and cheese.
It’s important, he said, because he is hungry after school.
Most of the children in the program attend Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, other charter schools in the area, as well as Jefferson Middle School and Eastern and Woodrow Wilson high schools.
Though the schools in the area serve meals for breakfast and lunch, the recreation center is the only center in the area to serve the meals after school, Taylor said.
Most of the children in the Kid’s Café program also participate in the various athletic and arts programs at the center, he said. Often, however, they come to the center just to eat, he added.
“We don’t turn anyone down,” he said. “If they are under 18, we can serve them.”
Taylor said he and the staff have a very strict regimen regarding the meals.
“When they arrive, we take the temperature of each component,” he said. “If it is within standards, we accept it. If it is not within standards, we can reject the meal.”
Each meal contains a meat, a fruit or vegetable, a carbohydrate and a carton of milk.
Salisbury steak, barbeque chicken, tuna fish, chicken salad, tacos, chili and baked chicken are some of the meals that are served to the children.
“We have to serve all components of the meal,” Taylor said. “It is up to the child what they do with it, but we have to serve it.”
Taylor said he takes pride in helping children receive meals that are nutritional.
“Having the program has really helped the community as far as nutrition,” Taylor said. “I believe it’s the basic component of life in general – a balanced meal.”
*This child’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
This child’s name has been changed to protect his identity.