PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On the first snow day of the year, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza kicked off a new program Monday designed to feed the city’s children on days that school is canceled due to weather.
Elorza said the new initiative is an expansion of existing program that provides meals to city students at recreation centers during the school week. On Monday, the city opened four recreation centers between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. for kids to run around, play basketball and eat a healthy meal.
The recreation centers included in the pilot phase of the program are:
West End, 109 Bucklin St. Providence, RI 02907
Phone: 401-680-7364 and 7365
Vincent Brown, 438 Hope St. Providence RI 20906
Phone: 401-680-7362 and 7363
Selim Rogers, 60 Camden Ave., Providence RI 02908
Phone: 401-680-7358 and 7359
Davey Lopes, 227 Dudley St. Providence, RI 02907
Phone: 401-680-7350 and 7351
The cost of the meals is reimbursed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). All Providence residents under the age of 18 are eligible to receive a meal.
Elorza said nearly 90% of the city’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. City officials have long acknowledged that some students rely on the meals they get at school because they aren’t always receiving them at home, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many students go hungry when school is canceled.
More than 15,000 Providence children under the age of 18 were living in poverty between 2012 and 2016, according to R.I. Kids Count, the state’s leading child advocacy organization. Nearly 6,800 children were believed to be living in extreme poverty, which means a family of four with two children earns less than $12,429 a year.
The mayor joked that he and his sister used spend their snow days playing video games, drinking soda and eating Cheetos, but he said he wants to provide students with places to burn calories and eat healthier meals.
It’s unclear how many students were expected to take advantage of the free food Monday, but a spokesperson for the mayor said 300 meals were prepared across the four recreation centers.
“Any kid can come in and get a free meal,” Elorza said.