Kid’s Cafe feeds hungry children, helps them with homework in after-school program

Kids participate in education enrichment programs like help with their homework, and other activites. (Photo by Amber Kahwaji/Cronkite News)

Kid’s Cafe serves free meals to Valley children who might otherwise go hungry.

The program, provided by St. Mary’s Food Bank to low-income neighborhoods, offers youths 18-years-old and younger help with their homework and a warm meal.

“Here in the Valley we partner with more than 100 after-school programs and some summer programs to provide that after school meal so that a child won’t go to bed hungry,” said David Martinez III, an advocacy and outreach specialist for the food bank.

With help from the partners, Kid’s Cafe serves more than 5,000 meals every day in the Phoenix area.

And many of Arizona’s children qualify for food assistance. Martinez says about a half a million kids qualify for free meals, or reduced price lunches.

Kid’s Cafes are set up in areas that are predominantly high-need areas, like Grant Park in downtown Phoenix. The free-meal sites are in or near schools where free and reduced lunches are given to more than 50 percent of students, Martinez said.

“Most of the sites St. Mary’s Food Bank operates are in the 80 or 90 percent rate, and some are in the 100 percent rate,” Martinez said.

Many people are food insecure, meaning “limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” according to the USDA.

Maricopa County has a food insecurity rate of 25 percent, one of seven counties ranked among the highest in the country, according to Feeding America. In Arizona, 28 percent of children are food insecure.

“There are a lot of rural communities where children and families don’t have access to fresh, nutritious meals at a school or grocery store,” Martinez said.

Besides providing meals, Kid’s Cafe provides educational enrichment programs, homework help and activities to keep kids busy.

“I usually come and eat, and then I come for homework,” said one 7th grader who knows of 11 kids who depend on the free meal at Kid’s Cafe as their main meal for the day.

Others use Kid’s Cafe as a home away from home.

“There’s sometimes a lot of arguing in my house, so when I don’t feel like being home I could just come here,” said a high school freshman.

The program is funded through grants provided by the U.S Department of Agriculture.

“More than one in four kids in Arizona are going to bed hungry every night,” Martinez said. “They can come to a site like Grant Park and receive a free meal, no questions asked.”