HILLIARD, Ohio (WCMH) – More Central Ohio families than ever before are struggling to put meals on their tables.

To help take some of the weight off the parents, a local non-profit is gearing up for their Free Summer Lunch Camp. Festa’s Free Summer Lunch Camp starts on June 8 and will run through July 29 at two different locations in Hilliard.

Founder and Executive Director Kim Emch said this will be their 16th year doing the program.

“So we start with that breakfast and lunch when they start and come to camp,” Emch said. “But then we have so many activities and games and educational pieces that are super super fun and we are helping children form relationships with other grown ups who say you are amazing.”

Emch said the program has served 600 to 1000 kids – but she said this year the need is greater than ever.

“When we started there were just over two thousand children who were getting a free reduced lunch in a suburban school district called Hilliard,” Emch said. “And now, there are nearly four thousand so the need continues to go up.”

She said this camp is not just about feeding their physical hunger but emotional hunger too.

“This really gives the children that place that they know we are looking. We know their name, we are looking into their eyes everyday welcoming them,” Emch said.

Feda and Ramiz, two Hilliard residents, both attended summer camp last summer – Feda a volunteer and Ramiz a camper.

“For me as a mom it is not easy to find an affordable summer camp that you are sending your child to and you are not worried about them,” She said. “I think the summer camp really meant a lot for us.”

Feda said their family hit a rough patch after the pandemic. She said being a part of this camp helped them get back on their feet in more ways than one.

“After we jumped into summer camp it was nice for me to see him around other kids and I loved some of the stuff that he was doing and helping,” she said.

Festa hopes that other school districts will follow and start programs like this one since summer food insecurity is such a problem in Central Ohio.

“Even if we can serve 1000 it’s just not enough,” Emch said. “So we really need to see school districts and other non-profits come into the space and really help children in the summer with both that physical and emotional poverty.”

So far there are nearly 400 kids signed up to go to camp – but there is still plenty of room left. The camp is also looking for volunteers.