GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "Chocolate!" the children shouted.
"Everybody wants chocolate milk?" the pastor asked them again.
They nodded in agreement. The little ones were about to enjoy a special lunch treat. On the menu: Turkey sticks dipped in cheese, applesauce, juice and milk.
"Goldfish!" a boy shouted with excitement as he opened his box of food.
The Bay Area Food Bank kicked off its Summer Food Service Program on Monday. This year, Rivers of Living Waters Church of God in Gulfport is participating as a feeding site.
"It feels good. I'm excited. I'm anxious about it. This my first time," said Pastor Carolyn Jackson.
Pastor Jackson applied for the program because she wants to make sure children have access to healthy food this summer.
"And let them know that most of all, they're not forgotten," said Pastor Jackson. "A lot of children in our community may not have that balanced, nutritious meal. Their parents may be working and sometimes the kids may be home by themselves."
"It is hard these days and times to even afford food," said Christian Preston, who brought her two children to the church. "So it's an honor and a privilege to have this program going on. They can come and eat for free and don't have to spend no money. So, I'm happy."
And the boxed lunches seemed to be a hit with the youngsters. When asked about the taste of the food, six year old Ja'Marion Jackson pointed to his turkey and replied, "It's good when you put this into the cheese."
Even though turnout was low on the first day of the feeding program, the pastor said she is not discouraged. Church members are going out into the community and handing out fliers, letting people know that anyone age 18 and under is welcome.
"We have it on the board, in newspapers," said the pastor. "Once everybody, the word's out by mouth, everybody hears it, everybody sees something going on here, I believe they'll rush in."
And the church should have plenty of food to feed the hungry.
There are three summer feeding sites:
- Rivers of Living Waters Church - 4312 Ohio Avenue, Gulfport
- Boys and Girls Club of Pass Christian - 220 Church Avenue, Pass Christian
- H.A. Brown Memorial United Methodist Church - 220 N. Azalea Drive, Wiggins
The feeding program ends July 31st. The Wiggins program ends sooner.
Schools in Biloxi and Harrison County are also offering free meals to children this summer. In Biloxi, the sites are:
- Beauvoir Elementary
- Nichols Elementary
- North Bay Elementary
In Harrison County, the lunches are served at these following locations:
- Bel Aire Elementary
- D'Iberville Elementary
- Harrison Central Elementary
- Lyman Elementary
- North Gulfport 7th Grade
- Pineville Elementary
- Saucier Elementary
- Three Rivers Elementary
Some schools also offer breakfast.