Shortly after noon on Tuesday, the utility room of the Bellmeade Community Center in Richmond’s South Side turned into a de facto lunch room.

Four rows of folding tables filled the middle of the space, with dozens of elementary school-age children lining their sides. Just like during the school year, the children laughed and played with one another. They also got lunch — a sandwich with fruits and vegetables, and milk to wash it down — for no charge.

The community center borders Oak Grove-Bellmeade Elementary School, where 92 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year, according to the most recent data. While every student at the school receives free meals during the school year in accordance with Richmond Public Schools policy, the same can’t be said for many students during summer break.

Fewer than one in six Virginia students who rely on free or reduced school meals also get free meals through summer programs.

“When you move out of the school year, you also move out of those [free and reduced-priced meal programs],” said James Taylor, the CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, which recently released the first report on summer programs in the Richmond region. “When you have these summer learning opportunities, maintaining the nutrition aspects, particularly for low-income students, is absolutely critical because a lot of these students are struggling to maintain their nutrition.”

Across Virginia, 39 percent of public school students qualify for free meals, according to state data, while 5 percent have their meal prices reduced because of their parent or guardians’ income.

In order to qualify for free meals, students must come from a family with an income at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, which totals about $32,600 annually for a family of four. Those between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for the reduced meals — prices that can’t exceed 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast.

Yet only about 15 percent of those students are getting free meals through summer programs. Richmond-area localities are trying to fight that.

Across the region, children 18 years old or younger are able to receive free summer meals at more than 150 local locations. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, joined by Virginia first lady Pamela Northam, on Monday signed a proclamation calling this week “Summer Meals Action Week.”

The meals are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administered by state agencies and served by organizations such as schools and libraries.

“We need to make sure more kids access healthy meals during the summer months,” said Claire Mansfield, the state director for No Kid Hungry, a national organization aimed at ending childhood hunger. “Summer meal sites are at safe and easily accessible places throughout the city. Many of the locations also offer enrichment and physical activities to keep youth engaged, as well.”

Regionwide

To find the summer meal site closest to you, text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877 and type in a ZIP code.

Richmond

Every Richmond Public Schools student receives free meals during the school year and in the summer they can get free meals at 25 locations across the city.

Students in summer school are eligible for free breakfast and lunch each day of summer school, which ends July 26.

For students not in summer school, breakfast is served from 9-10 a.m. and lunch from noon until 1 p.m. The meals are given out on a first-come, first-served basis and run through Aug. 25.

Here are the non-summer school locations to get free meals:

  • Highland Park Plaza, 3300 First Ave.
  • Battery Park, 2803 Dupont Circle
  • Bellmeade Community Center, 1800 Lynhaven Ave.
  • Bill Robinson Playground, 35th and M streets
  • Blackwell, 300 E. 15th St.
  • Broad Rock , 4615 Ferguson Lane
  • Calhoun Playground, 436 Calhoun St.
  • Creighton Court, 2101 Creighton Road
  • Fonticello Playground, 28th and Bainbridge streets (lunch only)
  • Hickory Hill, 300 E. Belt Blvd.
  • Hillside, 1500 Harwood St.
  • Hotchkiss, 701 E. Brookland Park Blvd.
  • Humphrey Calder, 414 N. Thompson St.
  • Lucks Playground, Rogers and T streets
  • Mary Munford, 211 Westmoreland Ave.
  • Mosby Playground, Mosby and O streets
  • Pine Camp, 4901 Old Brook Road
  • Powhatan, 5051 Northampton St.
  • Randolph, 1415 Grayland Ave.
  • Reid, 1301 Whitehead Road
  • Southside, 6255 Old Warwick Road
  • T.B. Smith, 2015 Ruffin Road
  • Thompson, 7825 Forest Hill Ave.
  • Westover, 1301 Jahnke Road
  • Whitcomb Court, 2302 Carmine St.

Chesterfield

The free summer meals program in Chesterfield County, a partnership between the county school division and library system, runs through Aug. 2.

Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. every Monday through Thursday at these locations:

  • Chester Library, 11800 Centre St. in Chester
  • Ettrick-Matoaca Library, 4501 River Road in South Chesterfield
  • LaPrade Library, 9000 Hull Street Road in North Chesterfield
  • Meadowdale Library, 4301 Meadowdale Blvd. in North Chesterfield

Hanover

Hanover County has the smallest population of free or reduced meal-eligible students in the region, but still offers a summer meals program.

The county school district gives free lunch to all students enrolled in summer classes or the Hanover Parks and Recreation summer program at Mechanicsville Elementary School, and any other children 18 or younger, at the elementary school from 12:15-12:45 p.m. every Monday through Thursday through the end of July.

July 31, a Tuesday, is the last day of the program.

The summer school students and those in the parks and recreation program start eating at 10:45 a.m.

Henrico

Henrico County’s program has seen the biggest change this year.

Nearly all students are now eligible for free summer meals, a substantive change over the county’s policy in past years that its summer meals program would be focused on just students enrolled in summer programs.

Those students still will be served first, but any child who is accompanied by a parent or guardian will get their meal afterward (parents are not eligible). That will be the case at 31 sites, with just one site — Echo Lake Elementary School — giving meals only to children enrolled in summer programs.

The meals will be given out Monday through Thursday each week, with breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. and lunch being served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Here’s where you can go in Henrico to get a free summer meal:

Elementary schools

  • Adams ES, 600 S. Laburnum Ave., June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Arthur Ashe ES, 1001 Cedar Fork Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Fair Oaks ES, 201 Jennings Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Mehfoud ES, 8320 Buffin Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Montrose ES, 2820 Williamsburg Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Ridge ES, 8910 Three Chopt Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Trevvett ES, 2300 Trevvett Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Ward ES, 3400 Darbytown Road, June 25 — Aug. 9

Recreation centers

  • Confederate Hills Recreation Center, 302 Lee Ave., June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Dorey Recreation Center, 2999 Darbytown Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, 1440 N. Laburnum Ave., June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Elko Community and Recreation Center, 6216 White Oak Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Hidden Creek Community Center, 2417 Brockway Lane, June 25 — Aug. 9

Elementary school open sites

  • Baker ES, 6651 Willson Road, June 25-Aug. 9
  • Glen Lea ES, 3909 Austin Ave., June 25-Aug. 9 (Closed July 2-6)
  • Harvie ES, 3401 Harvie Road, June 25-Aug. 9
  • Highland Springs ES, 600 Pleasant St., July 9-Aug. 2
  • Ratcliffe ES, 2901 Thalen St., July 9-Aug. 2
  • Sandston ES, 7 Naglee Ave., July 9-Aug. 2

Middle and high school open sites

  • Brookland MS, 9200 Lydell Drive, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • CodeRVA Academy, 1405 Cummings Drive, July 9 — Aug. 9
  • Elko MS, 5901 Elko Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Fairfield MS, 5121 Nine Mile Road, June 25 — Aug. 2
  • Douglas S. Freeman HS, 8701 Three Chopt Road, June 25 — Aug. 2
  • Hermitage HS, 8301 Hungary Spring Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • Highland Springs HS, 15 S. Oak Ave., June 25 — Aug. 2
  • Moody MS, 7800 Woodman Road, June 25 — Aug. 9
  • John Rolfe MS, 6901 Messer Road, June 25 — Aug. 2
  • J.R. Tucker HS, 2910 Parham Road, June 25 — Aug. 2
  • Varina HS, 7053 Messer Road, June 25 —
  • Aug. 2
  • L. Douglas Wilder MS, 6900 Wilkinson Road, June 25 — Aug. 2

Closed enrollment site

  • Echo Lake ES, 5200 Francistown Road, July 9 — Aug. 2

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jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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