As Matt Foster walked out of the Canal School cafeteria Friday afternoon, he popped his head into the kitchen.

“Don’t forget the Italian dressing,” he told Sally Hume as she cleaned up her work station. Though she doesn’t normally take special orders, Hume said, she’d make an exception.

“He doesn’t like ranch,” she explained.

Foster is one of more than 100 kids in Westbrook who have been benefiting from a new program this summer that offers free lunch to children between the ages 4 and 18. The rotating menu of deli sandwiches, salad, pizza sticks and chicken tenders is available every weekday at the Canal School from 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. with no restrictions on who can come, other than age and Westbrook residency.

The program started when school got out for the summer, and Hume, who is the food services director at Wescott Junior High during the school year, said it’s been growing steadily ever since.

There are regulars, like the group of teens from Mission Possible and the 4- and 5-year-olds from Always There Educare, a day care center on Stroudwater Street.

“The kids love it because they feel like they’re going out to eat,” said Stephanie Cole, a teacher at the day care.

Some parents said they’ve brought their kids when they were in the area or were looking for a way to change up their lunch routine to fill out the day.

“We just came one day to see if their friends were here,” said Thomas LaRose, who brought his sons Sam, 6, and Chris, 10, in for lunch Monday.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said.

Hume and her co-worker Debbie Hebert show up at 9 every morning to assemble the lunches, which come complete with nutritious sides like baked potato chips, apple slices, yogurt and milk. She said about 70 kids a day have been coming to Canal, and she and Hebert deliver another 60 or so lunches to children participating in the summer recreation program at the junior high.

The program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began in 1968 and has since spread to towns and cities throughout the nation, where millions of children are fed free lunch during the summer months.

“It happens all over the country. It’s just never been in Westbrook,” said Katie Camplin, who had the idea to bring the program to the city.

Camplin is the community coordinator for the Westbrook Children’s Project, a new initiative to bring programming and activities to kids in the city. In addition to the free lunch program, Camplin arranged to have a children’s poetry workshop at Canal that follows lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Westbrook Children’s Project is supported by the school department, United Way of Greater Portland and the People’s Regional Opportunity Program, which provided funding for a bus to pick up children at stops around the city and bring them to Canal School for the free lunch program. The bus starts picking up kids at 11 a.m. and stops on Brown Street, on Main Street, at the intersection of Saco and Prospect streets and at The Hamlet.

The people who run the program say it’s been an early success, and only hope that more and more kids start making a habit out of coming to Canal School every day.

“If I could get every kid here, it would be the best,” Hume said.

Hunter McCarthy snacks on Chex Mix, while Arianah Anderson sucks down a chocolate milk at Canal School Monday, where a new program offers free lunches to any and all kids from Westbrook, between the ages of 4 and 18. These two 4-year-olds are among a group of children from Always There Educare, a day care center on Stroudwater Street, who take advantage of the free lunch every day. Debbie Hebert and Sally Hume assemble deli combo sandwiches at Canal School Monday. Over 100 local children daily are taking advantage of free lunches offered at Canal School through a federally-funded program.Quentyn May, 5, gets ready to eat his free lunch at Canal School Monday, as his mom dumps a bag of grapes onto his tray.Hunter McCarthy snacks on Chex Mix, while Arianah Anderson sucks down a chocolate milk at Canal School Monday, where a new program offers free lunches to any and all kids from Westbrook, between the ages of 4 and 18. These two 4-year-olds are among a group of children from Always There Educare, a day care center on Stroudwater Street.


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