CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Atrium Health’s University Hospital in North Charlotte is now the first hospital in the state to offer free meals to children who are out of school for the summer.

The hospital, located at 8800 North Tryon Street, will serve kids under 18 years of age free breakfast and lunch from Monday to Friday until August 24. Breakfast will be served between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and lunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The meals are free and no registration or signup is required. Officials say all you have to do is enter through the hospital’s main entrance and someone will direct you to the cafeteria.

Numbers show more than 77,000 people in Mecklenburg County are food insecure and almost half of them are children. Atrium officials say their "Kids Eat Free" program is one way they’re working to address food insecurity in the community.

“We did our community health improvement study in 2016. We actually recognize that the neighborhoods surrounding this hospital facility were in food deserts, and struggling with food insecurity and access to healthy foods,” said Dr. Alisahah Cole, V.P., Assistant Medical Director of Community Health for Atrium Health.

For parents like Donita Robinson, who finds her wallet harder hit in the summer when all four of her kids are out of school, the program is a blessing.

“With summer school it is so expensive. Usually something quick will be brought home when you’re on the run, like McDonalds," Robinson said. "So, this is good that they can actually eat a healthy meal with the apples and healthy fruits and vegetables."

But more than a free meal, Atrium has also partnered with community groups to offer free activities for the kids including:

  • Crafts and activities provided by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte
  • Nutrition education provided by Atrium Health
  • Literacy and STEM activities on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
  • Farmer’s marker cooking demonstrations on Thursdays
  • Reading activities with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
  • The chance to hand-deliver “Get Well” cards to CHS University patients alongside CMPD officers
  • The opportunity to learn about and help with planting, caring for and harvesting fruits and vegetables, in the hospital garden

“I tell people we’re really shifting from this model of illness and disease to one of wellness and prevention. And as we do that we have to think about the holistic notion of health and not just addressing the medical needs, but also addressing all of the social, emotional and spiritual needs that our community member have and quite frankly deal with on a daily basis,” Dr. Cole said.

Dr. Cole said the hospital also recently launched the "Community Resource Hub," a free publicly-available website, where users can plug in their zipcode to see what social support services are available to them in their particular zipcode.

No Kid Hungry North Carolina, a program partner also sponsors a text message resource. Mobile phone users can text “FOOD NC” for English and “COMIDA” for Spanish to 877-877 and receive up-to-date meal site location information. (Standard text messaging rates apply).

You can click here for more information on the program.