Many parents come home exhausted from a long day of work, but their job isn’t finished; children need help with their homework and dinner needs to be made. But when Vikki Porter comes home, she knows her two sons have finished their homework and eaten a nutritious dinner.
Porter’s sons, ages 8 and 10, participate in various COA Youth & Family Centers activities. They receive afternoon snacks and supper at the COA Riverwest Center.
“Some days when I’m really, really tired from working all day and I ask them if they ate already, it’s one less thing I have to worry about,” Porter said.
The meal service is part of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, which receives funding from USDA and ensures that all meals and snacks meet nutritional standards. The amount of reimbursement the program receives from USDA is based on the household incomes of the children enrolled in the program. USDA reimburses more for meals served to children from low-income households.
The COA Riverwest Center, 909 E. Garfield Ave., provides free meal service to three separate COA programs: the Child Care Center, the Riverwest Preteen Program and the Riverwest Teen Program.
About 65 children in the Child Care Center are provided with breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack as part of the meal service, according to COA Youth Development Program Administrator Angela Pien. Similarly, about 25 preteens and 25 teens receive an afternoon snack and supper meal service at the Riverwest Center.
The COA Goldin Center, 2320 W. Burleigh St., also participates in the free meal program, providing lunch, an afternoon snack and supper to an estimated 80 preteens and 30 teens.
According to Ellen Sullivan, team leader of the Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s Community Nutrition Programs, these COA programs are licensed to serve a total of 672 children, but only serve 225.
Preteen Program Coordinator Quintrell Boyels is aware of the gap. He attributes it to competition from other after-school programs, but noted that extra space allows for new children to take advantage of the program.
Sixty-nine other Milwaukee organizations offer the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Anna, Lamer, president of the COA Parent Committee, said her family is very active at COA and her three children typically enjoy the free meals they are served.
“Any place where they can get a nutritious meal where I don’t have to spend time cooking is fine with me,” Lamer said.
COA also offers a Summer Food Service Program that provides low-income children with free meals during school vacations.
For hours and registration information, visit coa-yfc.org.