Meriden parks employee helps feed children this summer

Monday, June 30, 2014
Meriden Record Journal
Meriden, CT

When it comes to feeding children during summer break, city agencies and individuals are helping out.

In the Park Avenue and Franklin Street area, snacks might come from Eva Kim Marquez, who has been working at the city-run water park in the neighborhood for seven years. She opens the park every morning equipped with her bullhorn, yellow safety vest, bottles of water and snacks, purchased with her own money or donated by park regulars.

Cookies and small bags of chips are popular. When Marquez announces it’s time for a snack, kids cooling off in the sprinklers form a quiet, orderly line. A chorus of “Thank you, Ms. Eva” can be heard as snacks are handed out.

“These are my little people,” the 47-year-old Marquez said Monday, surveying the 50 or so children playing. “This is my life, here.”

Marquez said the snacks are an important part of the day.

“You see these kids sometimes, and they’re hungry. Who knows, times are tight at home, or there are some other issues, but everything I do is for this community; it’s for these kids,” she said.

Marquez kicked off the summer season with a park-wide picnic of donated pizzas.

Those looking for something more substantial need to go no further than just beyond the water park fence, where free summer lunches furnished by New Opportunities are handed out.

The lunches are part of “End Hunger Connecticut!,” a statewide anti-hunger organization, which has teamed up with federal nutrition programs including the National Summer Food Service Program.

Sponsors of the Summer Food Service Program provide free meals to children at a central location, such as the water park, and receive payment through the Department of Agriculture.

Ramon Rubio is a van driver for New Opportunities, who makes rounds in Meriden and Wallingford picking up and dropping off food.

“We serve about 3,000 people a day,” he said.

Paul Vivian, interim director of Meriden’s Children First Inc., said that his organization sees an increase in hungry children during the summer.

“One of our concerns is for the kids on the free and reduced lunch program at the schools, who suddenly don’t have that resource over the summer,” Vivian said. In addition to providing nutritional education for families through Children First Inc., Vivian said he tries “to get as many kids as possible connected with the New Opportunities lunches.”

About 70 percent of students in the Meriden Public Schools receive free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year.

For Marquez, however, the snacks are just another way to give back.
“I love my community, and I love these kids,” she said.

And though Marquez does not accept monetary donations, those interested can donate food items, water bottles, or paper plates and utensils directly to Marquez at the water park.

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