VICTOR - Lunch was over and the kids coming in from the playground last week were talking about the activity of the day at Victor School's free summer events program.
"It's computer games today," said Tina Pings, supervisor of the four-day-a-week activities program that comes with free lunch and an afternoon snack.
Ascending sixth grader Hailey Kay considered whether this was something to get excited about.
"Well, I've got nothing better to do," she said. "It's between this and cleaning up my grandpa's yard after the storm."
The new activity program has one week under its belt and is a companion piece to Victor's new Summer Free Lunch Program, which is funded by a grant from the state Office of Public Instruction (OPI) that is designed to help districts provide nutrition for children of low-income families.
Maria Stover, the food service director at Victor since 2005, said the new summer lunch program helps Victor bridge a gap that typically existed through the summer months. The need exists year-round, Stover pointed out, with the district qualifying for the summer funds based on the fact that close to 86 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches during the school year.
"There's certainly a need in our community," Stover said. "And as far as the kids are concerned, I'm pretty sure the kids that do use it are liking it."
Though the program is connected to the need that exists in Victor, Stover said the lunch is available to anyone who lives in Ravalli County.
The program, which is funded through federal United States Department of Agriculture, is part of an increasing effort in Montana to help schools provide meals to those who need it during the summer months, said Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.
"During summer break kids should not worry about getting enough to eat," Juneau said.
According to a report on hunger among school children during summer, OPI helped schools serve meals to more than 6,600 children last summer, up from 5,700 in 2008.
During the first week of offering free lunches at Victor, Stover said they'd been seeing fewer participants than they hoped, though the numbers had been picking up steadily. On Thursday she served 44 lunches.
"We originally planned to have enough to serve 100," Stover said.
Both she and Victor Superintendent Orville Getz said they expected the numbers to increase as word spreads.
"Word is definitely getting out," Getz said. "And I'm sure there's going to be more people, especially after we get past the Fourth of July holiday."
Stover has tried to do her part to let the community know, distributing flyers around town.
One of those ended up in the hands of Christina DeCoite after a good Samaritan helped her with a ride.
"I'd locked the keys in the car and this lady gave me a ride," said DeCoite, who recently relocated to Victor with her family. "When I asked her ‘what is there for kids to do around here?' she handed me a flyer" about Victor School's free lunch and activities programs. It was very random and helpful. When you're a kid, you can only play outside in your yard so often before you start to wonder what else there might be to do."
Getz said the funding for the lunch program was enough to help them offer the activities, also free of charge, because the afternoon ends with a snack.
Aimie Kay happily brings her three children to the school for the program, saying she likes it because it keeps them busy.
And free lunch for three is something else again.
"That actually helps out a lot," she said.
And as she does during the regular school year, Stover emphasizes good nutrition in her menus and works to find local sources for as many of her ingredients as she can.
"There's a box of Swanson apples back there," she said, pointing through the kitchen.
Victor also gets some items from the Montana Food Products company in Lolo, she said.
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Pings begins the activities with an hour-long supervised playground session at noon.
The daily activity runs from 1-3 p.m., with a range of options from the computer room and library to movies in Victor's new theater to crafts and outside games.
Seated in front of a computer Thursday, Hailey Kay seemed comfortable with her decision to stay for the activity.
"Yeah, it's pretty fun," she said.
In addition to feeding all children under 18, the Victor Summer Free Lunch Program will serve adults for $3.75. Meals are also served in the following Ravalli County locations: Conner Church, Darby School and Washington School and Westview Center in Hamilton.
Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.