Kids served by an archdiocesan hunger relief agency are ready for a summer filled with good food, seasoned with a key ingredient: kindness.

On July 14, Nutritional Development Services (NDS) held its annual “Blessing of the Summer” at St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia, with the agency’s board president, Msgr. Daniel J. Sullivan, presiding.

The annual prayer service kicked off this year’s Summer Meals Program, a federally funded, state-administered initiative that provides free, balanced meals to kids 18 and under in low-income areas.

NDS director Lizanne Hagedorn said her agency has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture program for “well over 40 years.”

Last summer, she and her team served up more than 1 million meals at hundreds of area sites, and in the first few weeks of this year’s effort — which began June 21 and wraps up August 26 — some 180,000 boxed lunches have been handed out at 270 locations.

But the fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins and milk are all just a first course for feeding the heart, said Hagedorn, which is why NDS organizes the program around a specific theme, such as this year’s “Summer of Kindness.”

Along with the lunches, kids at this week’s kickoff received a “kindness pledge” form to list specific ways in which they promised to show respect and support for others.

“We’re trying to help children be a little introspective, but a child can’t really do that unless they’re physically satisfied,” said Hagedorn.

Bringing kids together over a meal provides an opportunity for “everyone to exchange thoughts, and for all to be at the table,” she said.

Such interactions, along with greater self-awareness, are more needed than ever, she added.

“In our city, the violence has really escalated,” Hagedorn said. “I don’t think in their daily lives children have enough time to be mindful in their thoughts, words and actions – how they treat themselves, and how they treat one another.”

But a commitment to kindness can “change the flavor of the world,” said Msgr. Sullivan.

“That’s really one of the reasons why we come and bless the summer and bless all of you – because we believe you’re what God wants us to be,” he said, addressing the children at Wednesday’s gathering. “You’re able to be the person and friend to other people that Jesus wants you to be.”

Saige, who will enter the fourth grade at St. Francis de Sales in the fall, said she plans to “help the neighbors take their groceries in,” adding that she also “loves broccoli.”

Her classmate Lianna said she knew the impact that everyday acts of courtesy and compassion can have.

Having had previous experiences of bullying in her life, Lianna said she “just decided to help other people and be a kind person.”

Living out kindness isn’t complicated, she added.

“I just ask people, ‘How’s your day going? What did you do over the weekend? Did you play?” said Lianna.

“That’s going to change our world, when more of us learn how to be kind,” said Msgr. Sullivan.