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Hunger Beat

The 1 in 5: A meal, homework and a puppet show

Kids Cafes distribute healthy meals to children, such as this whole wheat pasta salad, fruit cup and milk at the Lakeview YMCA.

On a recent Thursday, an impromptu puppet show was breaking out at the Lakeview YMCA in Chicago. The stage – a sheet of cardboard with a square cut out of the middle – was set up on two chairs. A group of children anxiously huddled around the front, playfully giggling and waiting for the show to begin. Two more crouched behind the cardboard, controlling the puppets – paper cut outs on popsicle sticks. The stick figures appeared, and the children cheered with delight.

This scene is not uncommon at the Lakeview YMCA. Children play basketball, do homework and socialize – the program coordinators know it’s important for them to work and play together. But just as important is the meal that the Lakeview YMCA – a Greater Chicago Food Depository Kids Cafe site – provides after school.

“I know we have families who rely on these meals,” said Lily Smith Richards, the Lakeview YMCA’s Youth and Family Manager.

The site serves meals to approximately 40 children per day, ages 5 to 13. Most families with children enrolled in the program include at least one parent who is working, Lilly said.

“I know that the Kids Cafe is important to a lot of these families,” she said.

Lily knows one of the most crucial aspects of the program is access to healthy food, which she sees the direct benefits of.

“The quality of food they get is important,” she said. “I can see that the kids’ mental capacity is a lot better after they’ve eaten. They’re more ready to do homework and concentrate.”

Programs like the Kids Cafe are part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is slated to expire in September. With 1 in 5 children at risk of hunger in Cook County, the Act’s funding for these programs must be protected. For more stories about the impact of children’s programs, visit

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