Free lunch. lessons, a hit with youngsters

If you’re trying to serve kids a little knowledge with their nutrition, chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs are a good option — they combine protein with a possible lesson about prehistoric animals.

But at Wednesday’s summer lunch camp for low-income children, the dinosaurs were just food, and the knowledge dispensed by Suanne Martin-Smith, who runs the program for South Kitsap Helpline, instead ranged from how to make a lady bug out of egg cartons to lessons about the continent of Africa.

Beginning the day by reading a story while the children enjoyed granola bars for “breakfast,” Martin-Smith then picked up a globe and reminded her young audience that they would be learning more about Africa, which was the region of the world they were visiting this week.

“One of our parents, she brought in lots of stuff to show the children from Africa, like clothing and small drums,” Martin-Smith said, explaining that the parents and volunteers have been a great resource for her in each of the lessons. “Another one of the parents, he is Latino, so he helped me teach them some Spanish words when we visited Mexico and Spain.”

“I want to make it an experience they will remember,” she said, explaining that the first day the children were given small passports that included their pictures, names and pages to fill with stamps from each region visited. “I wanted to give them something they could take home.”

To cover Russia, Martin-Smith turned to Elena Lawhone, who helps in the camp’s kitchen and moved to the Port-Orchard area less than a year ago from the former Soviet Union.

Lawhone brought in felt hats and other items to show the children, then for lunch she made blinis, which she described as “like a pancake, but filled with meat.”

When asked if the children liked them, she said they did, explaining that “some asked for more.”

Predicting what the children will like is a big part of their job in the kitchen, said Joan Martin, Martin-Smith’s mother and the camp’s other resident chef. Martin said every day she first she looks at the sign-up sheet to see how many little mouths she has to feed — then she tries to guess how much they will actually eat.

Martin said she was surprised how many children came to the lunches, explaining that 34 had signed in by noon.

“I didn’t realize there was such a need for this,” she said, adding that it was “really great” to be able to feed them.

Although plenty of food is offered during the two-hour camp, there is no shortage of activities, either, since along with a story and lessons, the children can test their skills at several craft and activity tables that include Legos and games.

For Wednesday’s craft, Martin-Smith demonstrated how to make ladybugs with cut-up egg cartons, pipe cleaners and paint.

As with many of the materials for crafts, Martin-Smith said she appropriated extra egg cartons from the food bank for the project.

“I noticed an abundance of them,” she said, explaining that the bank uses donated cartons to parcel out eggs to recipients, since it gets them in loose flats.

Martin-Smith said she did similar programs while working as an art teacher in Gig Harbor, and is excited to bring the multicultural, artistic program to the children at the lunch camp.

“Especially since a lot of these kids wouldn’t normally have opportunities like this,” she said, explaining that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will feature art and literature workshops, Thursdays will have cooking projects and Tuesdays will have guest speakers.

The program is offered every weekday until Sept. 1 at the Knights of Columbus Church on Mitchell Avenue, and is free to all low-income children from pre-school age to 18.

For more information or to volunteer, call 876-4089.

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