Mayor: Iowa will join Summer Food Service Program despite initial concerns

Iowa will be participating in the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Summer Food Service Program for an 11th year, but the decision to participate again did not come without questions.

At the Iowa Town Council meeting on Monday, Mayor Neal Watkins raised concerns about the language of the contract between the town and CPPJ. He said the contract included two open site locations in Iowa, as well as Bell City. His worry is with the meal distribution to Bell City.

“The taxpayer dollars for this program tends to be going outside of Iowa. I don’t think that’s proper. I don’t think it’s ethical for us to do that. … I’m not sure what our money is being used for.”

The CPPJ summer feeding program provides thousands of meals to students over the summer throughout Calcasieu Parish. Last year at the Iowa sites, 7,080 meals were served.

Each year, the town contributes $6,500 to a pool of funding that supports the summer food program. Each open site costs $3,000 for lunches and $250 for breakfast, said Erick Johnson, member of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Human Services Advisory Board representing the Iowa, Bell City and Hayes areas. These amounts are collected by every participating municipality with open feeding sites.

The Human Services Department budgets about $650,000 a year for the program, and each meal costs less than $1, Johnson said.

He said the town is not paying for meals for Bell City, but is contributing funding according to the number of open sites in Iowa. Over the years, about 35 to 40 meals have been bussed to Bell City daily while the program is active.

Any child (even children from out of state) are required to be fed if they show up at the sites, meaning meals served at the Iowa open sites are not exclusive to Iowa children, he noted.

Watkins said his qualms do not lie with feeding children who reside out of town. He is concerned about the potential legal ramifications of including “Bell City” in the contract, stating he didn’t want to misappropriate funds accidentally.

“I do not mind helping. … I want to make sure that I — because I’m an elected official — am doing what is proper with every dime that comes out of the town. Is this what a majority of the people in this town want? If it is, I have no problem with it.”

CPPJ Human Services Director Tarek Polite said at the meeting that no other municipalities have faced legal issues with the summer feeding program contracts, but that they can strike “Bell City” from the language of the contract going forward.

Johnson guaranteed the children in need in Bell City would still receive meals.

One citizen, a former teacher, expressed her disappointment in the discussion at the meeting.

“I can tell you there are a lot of kids that come to school during the school year hungry, and I can’t believe that you are quibbling over a few dollars about something that is in place to help people of this community.”

The town council ultimately unanimously voted to contribute the $6,500 and participate in the program this summer.

From Monday, June 5, until Friday, July 28, free meals will be available at 15 locations across Calcasieu Parish on weekdays.

To view participating locations, visit calcasieu.gov.

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