Earlier this month, we told you about a program that is providing Knox County students free meals over the summer. But that need goes well beyond the county limits. And one program is helping kids under the age of 18 throughout East Tennessee get free breakfasts and lunches.
This is a program that has been around since the '70s, but now has grown to 150 sites just around East Tennessee.
The cafeteria at Maryville High School is quiet at night, but every day for the past month, it's seen a crowd. Breakfast and lunch are served free everyday.
"They get a well balanced meal every single day. And it is completely free. People think it is too good to be true and it isn't. It's completely free," said cafeteria manager Debi Ace.
Ace said the variety keeps bringing kids back for more, while at the same time staying healthy.
"Quesadillas, mini corndogs, peanut butter-- all the meals come with a milk and a juice, a vegetable and fruit," said Ace.
The free meals don't appear out of thin air. They come from an organization called the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency, or ETHRA.
"We just want to reach the kids. As many as possible," said Veronica Stephens with ETHRA.
ETHRA receives money from the USDA each year for this program, and they serve all of East Tennessee.
"They can be from any income, they can be from any area. They can be from a different county and go to a county that has the program. We try to establish the program in every county if possible," said Stephens.
They serve thousands each day, at around 150 different sites, and they continue to look to the future.
"We would like to purchase or receive donations of some sort of retired school buses, vans that agencies use. And we would convert those into mobile feeding sites," said Stephens.
Each site is decided by the need. A lot of times, schools like Maryville have the need.
The requirement for school sites is that there are 50% or more students on free or reduced lunch. Ace says the need is great, and this program will be around for summers to come.
"We love it we will just keep doing it every year," she said.
Also, the Athens City Schools run a similar program. They are on their 12th year and they serve up to 2,000 kids a day, giving 25 people jobs. USDA also funds their program.
ETHRA's program in Maryville lasts until July 18.