RICHMOND, Va. - Floyd Brown looked out over a room of kids eating lunch at the Randolph Community Center and reflected back on his own summer days in South Richmond. Brown now helps run the summer meals program that he took part in when he was a child.
"My friends and my family, where we came from, man, it was hard," Brown said. "But this program helped us through our lives, and now I'm just trying to pass it on to others."
Brown came back from the United States Marine Corps and said he wanted to make a difference. "I hope my legacy is helping the community to better itself."
It's a common thread at the community center, many came through the program and now spend their days helping others.
"Our common thread is to make a difference, to give them a little push to say you can be or do anything you want," Brown said.
Richmond Parks and Recreation distributes free breakfasts and lunches to any child under the age of 18 who comes to one of the more than 80 meal locations in the city and beyond, through grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Those locations include summer camps, church programs, and community centers. Brown estimated they provide more than 1,000 meals each day during the summer.
"Let's say a kid is walking down the street and he happens to glance in the window and see kids eating. He can walk in and receive a meal because he may be hungry or he just sees a kid eating and wants to eat with him!"Brown said.
Only 13 percent of Virginia kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year also get a free meal during the summer, according to state data. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who helped distribute lunch at Randolph Community Center Tuesday, said making sure low-income students get a nutritious meal year-round is critical.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who helped distribute lunch Tuesday at the community center said that making sure low-income students get a nutritious meal year-round is critical. He helped kick-off the Summer Meals Program with First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, who has championed ending childhood hunger in Virginia.
"What we all fear is that they are not getting that nutritious lunch, or that nutritious meal, during the summer days," he said. "They get to do that here."
The mayor spent lunchtime hanging out with kids after distributing lunches with a cheerful gusto: "How you doing? Good? How about GREAT?!"
Although many kids at the community center pay to be at the summer camp program, any kid can stop by for a free meal.
Brown said he thinks most people who take advantage of the program learned about it from word of mouth. He said he hopes more low-income families take advantage of the program because he knows what it meant to his own development.
"Just giving them a little push, and say you can do and be anything you want to be," he said.
To find locations that participate in the USDA program locally, check here or call 804-646-5752.