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Free dinner program for school kids gaining popularity

A dinner program for school kids is gaining traction. 15,000 kids across the state are participating. It's free to any child 18 or younger. (Mummolo/KTUL)

At first glance,it looks like your average school at lunch time. On the menu today, chicken taquitos with carrots, rice, a fruit cup and chocolate milk. But this isn't lunch, it's dinner.

"It's a need, it's not a want, it's a need," said parent Kanisha Townsend, whose kids amongst the first in Tulsa to participate in a new supper program called "The Welcome Table."

"It's an impact to our children that they’re eating, you know, they have dinner, they have breakfast, lunch and now dinner," she said.

"So Tulsa, 80 percent of our students are on free and reduced lunch," said Chris Bernard of Hunger Free Oklahoma.

So, it should come as no surprise with that staggering statistic, that the need for food doesn't end with lunch. The benefits of providing dinner as well?

"It’ll help them be better in school, it'll help them be more confident, it’ll help them to avoid meals by themselves, it’ll help them to not be hungry," said Kyle Wilkes of the YMCA.

The YMCA staffs the program at three different sites; Eugene Field, Sequoyah elementary, and McClure.

"The food is provided very generously by the Eastern Food Bank of Oklahoma," he said.

A facility where bulky forklifts move with the grace and speed of a gazelle.

"The size of this warehouse is just massive, but the need in Oklahoma is also incredible," said Food Bank official Greg Raskin.

To put that need into perspective Raskin paints a sobering picture.

"So our warehouse will hold about three million pounds at any one point in time, if it’s at capacity, and if we quit receiving donations that would all be gone in about a month and a half," he said.

Which brings us back to dinner time at Eugene Field.

"We’ve grown pretty rapidly, you know in our first week we’re serving 5 to 10 kids and now we’re serving between 80 and 100," said Wilkes.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the actual need in Tulsa.

"Citywide we could easily be feeding 20,000 kids a day," said Bernard.

The Welcome Table program, free for any child 18 or younger, is a welcome sight for parents.

"It’s always scraping to make ends meet and with them putting this meal here it takes off a lot of stress," said Townsend.

To help the YMCA administer this program, you can volunteer your time by clicking here.

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