For the past two months, the Mountain Home Youth Center has served entrees weekday afternoons using meal items left over from each of the local school cafeterias.
The free meal program was the brainchild of Brian Hershey, food service director with the local school district, and city parks and recreation director Stan Franks.
"With the number of kids coming into the youth center that were hungry and couldn't afford a snack, it was nice to have food available for them," Hershey said.
With each school serving more than 325 children per day, it's not easy to accurately predict exactly how much food will actually sell at the schools on a given day, according to Hershey.
"We need to have enough to go around," he said.
As a result, each school would end up with enough food for at least 15 entries each school day. Before the youth center program began Aug. 15, that leftover food normally ended up in the trash.
"It's nice to have this program here (at the youth center)," said Irene Heckathorn, who runs the high school cafeteria. "It was upsetting to see good food thrown away, which is normally what would happen."
Hunger represents a major problem in the Mountain Home School District, Hershey said.
"You can see it in their eyes," he added. "You can see it at breakfast when we have kids literally licking their plates clean."
However, that doesn't mean that many school-age children aren't finicky when it comes to the types of food they prefer. At the high school, for example, students there love anything that goes with mashed potatoes, Heckathorn said.
But students have meals they simply try to avoid when possible, according to Hershey. Grilled chicken sandwiches top the list of least-favorite meals served in the school district.
Ironically, if those same chicken patties have breading on them, the children love them, said Lesley Baul, who runs the kitchen at North Elementary School.
Kellie Dunham, who manages the cafeteria at Hacker Middle School, knows the importance of a good meal, especially breakfast. Without it, students score poorly on their Idaho Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, she said.
"That's why their teachers are telling their kids to have a good breakfast before the ISATs," said Dunham, who serves breakfast to approximately 100 students each school day. "When they do, we see a spike in their test scores."
In addition to providing needed meals to local children, the youth center staff continues to see more children walk through their doors.
"We used to have maybe 10 children per day, but now we're seeing 20 to 30 kids a day," said Haines, who tied the increase to the food service program. The demand for food prompted the youth center staff to add another refrigerator to its kitchen.
None of that food goes to waste, according to Hershey. If the youth center has any leftovers, children are allowed to take the food home for themselves and their families.
"We want to see them take this food home because we don't want to see any empty stomachs," Hershey said.