SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- An after school meal program helps to keep kids from going hungry. Now, the YMCA offers a program to help local kids.
It's the nationwide partnership between the YMCA and the Wal-Mart Foundation that helped to create an after school meal program throughout the school year.
The Ozarks regional YMCA offers the aftercare snack program to 36 schools.
It provides children with additional nutrition and learning opportunities that many kids need beyond what they're receiving at school.
"My mom always works late and my dad works late as well," says fifth grader Jacob Johnston.
An after school meal program is a win-win. Parents often work late, and children need a safe place with meals and activities.
"Some of these kids were not sure about what happens when they go home or what kind of meals they get, if a meal at all," says Stephanie Currao, the food systems coordinator.
Currao, along with many other YMCA staff members, help make healthy meals and snacks available to kids once school ends.
"We are all about feeding kids nutritious food,” says Currao.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 50 million Americans -- including more than 16 million children under age 18 -- live with food insecurity.
"There are some kids that really need this meal,” says Mindy Lee, the childcare program director. “It's what tides them over until they come back to school tomorrow for breakfast."
She says this program helps parents provide healthy meals for their kids.
"By the time they get home, they don't always have the time to prepare them,” says Lee. “And some of them don't have the means."
Because of funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation, the programs will be able to expand the snack program into full meal programs. Plus, the kids get fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms twice a week.
"The kids get to try new fruits and vegetables that were grown pretty much right here in Springfield," says Currao, "Most of the food we source is within 20 miles of Springfield."
"The parents say ‘Oh my kids won't eat that!’ and we're like, ‘Oh, we had fruit today or we had kiwi or we had mango,’ and they're like ‘Oh, they don't eat that at home,’” says Lee.
"We just make something and there will be leftovers, and we just eat it again," Johnston says, "But here, we have fresh food, local food from gardens."
Programs are also available when school is out and last until 6:30 p.m.
You must sign your kids up at the YMCA to participate. Scholarships are available.