By Alex Lippa
---- — Once a week, Ana Bertrand takes her kids to the parking lot at the Fairways Apartments in Derry — for lunch.
Bertrand’s children enjoy free hot dogs and hamburgers, courtesy of the Salvation Army’s free lunch program.
The Salvation Army canteen truck pulls up to the Fairways every Tuesday at noon and serve food to children who come to the truck. On Thursday, the truck heads to Hood Park at noon.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Bertrand said. “The kids love the truck.”
Bertrand’s children are among the 46,639 in New Hampshire who qualified for the free or reduced lunch program in New Hampshire last year. While her kids are taken care of during the school year, the summer becomes a challenge.
Feeding those children is something a pair of organizations focus on during the summer. While the Salvation Army comes to The Fairways once a week for lunch, Southern New Hampshire Services comes to the same spot five days a week during the summer around dinner time.
“We do this from the first day that school gets out to the last day before school starts,” said Kathleen Devlin, Community Health and Nutrition Services Director with Southern New Hampshire Services. “It’s a continuation of the program which is held in the schools.”
About 40 brown-bag suppers are prepared by the staff and handed out to the children every night in three different locations around town. They stop at the Fairways around 4:15 p.m., then go to Franklin Village on Faraway Court at 5:15 p.m. before finishing at Hood Park at 6 p.m.
“There is a need for youths to have access to this during the summer,” Devlin said. “It’s geared toward making sure kids don’t go back to school in the fall at nutritional risk.”
Each brown bag contains milk, fruit, a vegetable and a sandwich. The program also cover Seabrook, Nashua and Manchester.
While Devlin’s staff prepare meals ahead of time, Lt. Christopher Williams of The Salvation Army grills hamburgers and hot dogs on site.
“We’re striving to provide 1,000 meals this year,” Williams said.
Last summer, they provided around 800 meals between the Fairways and Hood Park.
“It enables us to have good food and not have to worry about the extra cost at home,” Bertrand said.
Williams works in cooperation with the Derry School District to provide the food.
“It’s very important and we’re glad the Salvation Army has recognized the need,” Superintendent Laura Nelson said. “It is important to make sure our kids are able to have food.”
Other towns don’t have the same services available.
“I didn’t even know anybody did it in the summer,” Londonderry business administrator Peter Curro said.
In Salem, they used to provide lunches in the schools during the summer, but no longer do.
“We stopped about five or six years ago,” Superintendent Michael Delahanty said. “It was impractical. We couldn’t tell how many kids were taking advantage of it.”
Ellen Fineberg, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, said the need is there.
“A shocking number of kids in our state need those kinds of programs in order to be able to have healthy meals every day,” she said.
“One in five households with children experience food insecurity.”
And those who take advantage appear happy with the meals.
“I love it,” said Lindsey Devoe, 10, who stopped by the Salvation Army truck at the Fairways. “Everyone is so nice and the food is good.”