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Atrium Health expands 'Kids Eat Free' program

When school lets out, food pantries see a 20% increase in families who need help because their kids depend on free and reduced lunches.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Not every kid dances for joy on the last day of school.

"For a lot of kids in our area, it's not such a happy time."

Thousands of people living in Mecklenburg County are food insecure -- which means they do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. 

When school lets out, food pantries see a 20% increase in families who need help because their kids depend on free and reduced lunches. 

That's why Atrium Health is expanding its "Kids Eat Free" program and offering free, nutritious meals to kids in Mecklenburg and Stanly counties.

One out of every five children in the Charlotte area is hungry or food insecure, which means they don't know where their next meal is coming from.

When school ends, so do the breakfasts and lunches those kids have come to rely on.

"The need for food to get to kids in the summer in the great."

Second Harvest Food Bank is looking to fill that gap.

Starting next week, they'll be providing meals at dozens of sites around the community -- schools, parks, rec centers, and neighborhoods.

They'll also be supplying backpacks filled with food for kids to take home on the weekends.

"They're healthy, but they're great things that kids like."

Meanwhile, up in University City, a hospital is looking to heal the hunger.

"We don't want them going without."

Starting Monday, there will be menus on the cafeteria tables for breakfast and lunch.

"You just show up."

It's for any child in need of a meal. Last year, in just 11 weeks, they served 3,400 meals, just at one location.

"It fed me as much as I feel the service fed the children," said Elaine Jones. clinical health nutrition manager at Atrium Health University City.

This year, they're hoping to help even more.

"We service more than the sick. We want to focus on prevention. Food insecurity and hunger are such an incredible part of determining a child's trajectory through life."

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