BOSTON, Mass. — There is plenty of work to be done inside the kitchen at Fresh Food Generation in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Many of the meals they're making here are for kids who need them.
Teenager KJ Womack walks into the restaurant's storefront on a recent muggy afternoon and orders the herbed chicken and collard greens. All of it was free of charge thanks to a new nonprofit initiative called Local Lunchbox.
"It’s OK to ask for help, especially if you need it. It gives me a sense of responsibility to order my own food," the 17-year-old said.
The idea is to get free lunches for kids under the age of 18 while school is out for the summer. These meals aren't just free though. They're made fresh and provided by local restaurants in both Boston and Chicago. Kids aren't just given food, they get to choose what they want from the restaurant's menu.
Ashlie Bermudez works at Fresh Food Generation and sees the program as a way to expand young people's culinary horizons.
"Lunch for kids can be gourmet. It doesn't have to be the thing you look at and you're not sure what it is because you're hungry," she said.
In addition to giving free lunch to any kid who walks in the doors here, they're also preparing hundreds of fresh meals to be sent out around the neighborhood.
"We hope to build and encourage conscious eaters," Bermudez added.
The entire program is being funded and sustained by money from the USDA. In coordination with the Shah Family Foundation, the nonprofit is able to use already available USDA funds for free summer lunches.
"You can either buy a packaged product and serve it to kids or connect with local vendors and provide the food they prefer and that is more nutritious," Shah Family Foundation President Jill Shah said.
Not only is the money helping to get food to kids who need it, but it's also giving restaurants in economically diverse neighborhoods a boost during slower summer months.
"The real difference is how we use the funding. It pays for people to be employed, restaurants to thrive, and pays for kids to get the food they want," she added.
Right now, the concept is a pilot program. But last month, the Obama Foundation announced they'd be getting on board with the program and the hope is to expand it to multiple cities nationwide next summer.