BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Project Sunshine is returning.
For the third year in a row, the town will run the free summer recreation program for 40 homeless kids living in local motels.
More than 100 families with more than 160 kids — 60 of them school age — were living in Danvers motels as of last week. This, despite the fact that the number of homeless families in motels has steadily dropped, and the state has pledged to end the use of rooms as emergency shelters by June 2014.
Over the next few weeks, Recreation Department staff will work with school officials to reach out to the homeless children who attend Danvers schools. To reach students who attend school out of district, they will go to the motels, hang fliers in lobbies, and ask desk managers to let families with children ages 6 to 14 know that the program is available.
“Our goal for this program is a fun, safe summer,”Recreation Director David Mountain said.
The program is funded by donations from residents, businesses and community organizations, including in-kind donations. The town will also apply for grants.
The People to People Food Pantry on Sylvan Street donates the money to pay for breakfast, lunch and a snack, said Pam Parkinson, the town’s director of Senior and Social Services.
Staff at the senior center coordinate 20 to 25 volunteers who make the meals during what will be a seven-week program this year. In the past, the senior center has also hosted the children for a Belgian waffle breakfast and for cookouts.
In all, Project Sunshine will cost $30,000 to $35,000 to run.
The town plans to reach out to the business community, which has given generously in the past.
As of May 21, there were 111 families being sheltered in three Danvers motels, with 166 children, 61 of them school age, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which runs the program to shelter families in motels on an emergency basis. It’s this program that is supposed to end next year.
At the same time last year, there were 120 families with 93 school-age children living in motels. The high-water mark for the number of motel families came in November 2012 when Danvers had 195 families with 299 children.
“There is good news,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. “We have fewer families, we have fewer children. The reality is we have families placed for lengthy periods of time in circumstances that are really undesirable.”
Kids living in a motel would be faced with a summer of nothing to do but play in parking lots along Route 1. Marquis said on several occasions he has seen families pushing baby carriages on the sidewalk on Route 1 to get to convenience stores on Route 114.
Chris Roy, who directed Project Sunshine for the past two years, will be unable to do it again this year, Mountain said. Danvers High teachers Pete Spiros and Eric Oxford, who have both worked for Danvers Recreation, are taking over. The program is capped at 40 children because that is the capacity for one school bus. The program will be based for the second year in a row at the Smith Elementary School, but Mountain said they will not be spending a lot of time there.
There are plans for kids to go to Devereux Beach in Marblehead, the Coco Key Water Resort in Danvers and to a Lowell Spinners game. There will also be field trips for rollerskating, mini golf and the movies, and to state parks such as Breakheart Reservation in Saugus and Lynn Woods Reservation. The kids will also head to Endicott Park for activities such as the annual Firemen’s Muster.
The kids will be with other children in the town’s summer recreation programs as much as possible, Mountain said.
“I know the program really makes a difference,” he said, for the staff and volunteers as well as the children.
In November, Danvers officials attended a National League of Cities conference in Boston where they set up a booth and explained Project Sunshine to attendees from all across the nation. The program won a Municipal Innovation Award from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
“It’s the last one,” state Rep. Ted Speliotis of the summer program, “because the state has pledged that by the end of the next school year, the program is finished, they are closing the program down.”
Anyone wanting to donate to Project Sunshine can send a check payable to “Town of Danvers,” and send it to the Danvers Recreation Department, Town Hall, 1 Sylvan St., Danvers, MA 01923. Please write “Project Sunshine” in the memo line.