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After-school program in St. Louis County libraries to expand, feed more children

After-school meals will be available at six library branches, paired with activities like weekly chess instruction.  8/12
Kara Smith | St. Louis County Library
After-school meals will be available at six St. Louis County library branches, paired with activities like weekly chess instruction.

An after-school meal program in St. Louis county that feeds hungry children in public libraries is expanding.

St. Louis County Library and the nonprofit group Operation Food Search began the effort as a summer program in 2014. They expanded it in January 2018, serving 6,200 meals at three library branches between then and May.

Beginning Aug. 20, six library branches will offer the program throughout the school year. They plan to serve 75,000 meals. Operation Food Search is partially reimbursed for the meals through the Department of Agriculture.

The number of school-aged children in the area who don’t know where their next meal is coming from is increasing, according to Sunny Schaefer, executive director of Operation Food Search.

“We have thousands of area children who are returning to school in the next week or two and unfortunately many of these kids arrive in the classroom hungry,” Schaefer said.

Children in the meals program also participate in structured activities, including weekly chess lessons with members of the St. Louis Chess Club. The participating branches are Jamestown Bluffs, Lewis & Clark, Natural Bridge, Prairie Commons, Rock Road and Weber Road.

The branches are in areas with a high percentage of children who qualify for free or reduced-fee school lunches, and where healthy food options are in short supply, St. Louis County Library Director Kristen Sorth said.

This program is one way to reach kids where they already are, she added.

“We definitely see kids come into the branches that are hungry,” said Sorth.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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