Free lunch program
There is such a thing as a free lunch. Every Wednesday during the summer, free lunches are being provided for children and teens at Stange’s Park in Merrill.
The Free Lunch for Kids & Teens program served 67 lunches in its first week and 70 the second week, validating the need seen by its coordinators.
“Our goal is 100 a week,” said coordinator Sheila Drury. “We bring enough to serve 100 kids every week.”
The numbers so far have allayed any fears that children wouldn’t take advantage of the free lunch.
“We were really worried that first week that we’d maybe have 10 kids,” coordinator Cindy Swope said. “We were worried about so many things and it all just worked out. It was just like a blessing.”
Some of the children come with their parents, and others show up on their own. All are welcome.
The Free Lunch for Kids & Teens is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the park. Lunches are offered absolutely free, with no questions asked. Even adults can get a meal, and are encouraged to give whatever they can in the freewill donation box.
The emphasis of the program is to provide a healthy lunch for kids during the summer. Offerings include a sandwich, fruits, vegetables and a juice box.
“We never cook anything,” said coordinator Becky Yorde. “It’s just very basic, but always healthy.”
The program was initiated about a year ago by Christ United Methodist Church members, after the church participated in the backpacks for kids program. With a high number of Merrill children qualifying for free and reduced school lunch, church members saw a need for a summer nutrition program.
“We have so many kids on free and reduced lunch. What do those families do during the summer?” said Swope.
A grant was secured through the United Methodist Foundation, with additional funds from the church’s Foster Endowment, to cover the costs of this year’s program.
Organizers chose to place the meal site in a public park, rather than at the church, to have the atmosphere of a community program.
“We don’t want it to be exclusively associated with Christ United Methodist Church,” Drury said.
While Free Lunch for Kids & Teens is currently reliant on volunteers from within the Christ United congregation, organizers hope to expand beyond their church.
“Our goal is to have more organizations and churches get involved,” Drury said.
The program welcomes donations to support the future of the program. The United Methodist Foundation grant can be renewed for next year, but at a lesser amount.
The coordinators see the possible future expansion of the program to either more sites or more days of the week.
“We wanted to start out small and work out the kinks,” Swope said. “Then hopefully we can carry it further.”
The reward the coordinators get comes in the form of smiles and thanks from those they serve.
“We have the most appreciative kids,” Yorde said.