by Ann Wondergem
A total of 31,518 meals were served by over 120 individual volunteers during the fifth year of the Summer Meal Program. During the summer of 2014 this meal program was administered by the Sheboygan Area School District in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Sheboygan County, Nourish and the United Way of Sheboygan County. New to the meal program this past summer was serving breakfast in addition to lunch. During the first six weeks of the program, an average of 533 children a day came to one of the six meal sites for breakfast and just over 750 children a day ate lunch at one of the sites.
Breakfast and lunch were served at the Boys & Girls Club Stayer Center site and Longfellow, Jefferson, James Madison and Grant Elementary Schools and at South High School for the first six weeks. During the last 2 weeks of the program, meals were served at the Boys & Girls Club, Farnsworth, Horace Mann and Urban Middle Schools. As of May 2014, the Sheboygan Area School District had 52% of the enrolled students eligible for free and reduced lunch. All the elementary school sites selected for the Summer Meal Program exceed the 52%, in fact one school had 92% of the student population eligible for the free and reduce lunch program. Therefore the program sites, for the summer meal program, were selected to be as accessible as possible to children and families in need.
This program could not be offered without the support of an amazing group of people – VOLUNTEERS! Each day volunteers were needed early in the morning to serve breakfast and then another group of volunteers was needed to help serve lunch and clean up the lunch room site. As shared by a staff member of one of the sponsoring organizations; “In addition to feeding kids healthy meals we were able to connect with the community through our volunteers. I can’t thank you enough – all the volunteers, who supported the Summer Meal Program. When we say, ‘this program wouldn’t have been possible without the help of volunteers’, we simply mean, we could not do this without you. So, thank you! You achieved the goal of bringing healthy free meals to the children of our community.”
An even more important observation made by this staff member was how the adults interacted with the children. Taking time to talk and listen to them about things that were important to the child. Asking, “What are you doing this afternoon? What did you do this weekend? Also, acknowledging the random thing a young child found in the sandbox and wanted to talk about made this child feel important. Just seeing the smiles as children felt cared for by those of you who took time to help made a huge difference in the lives of the children.
Then there are the children. While I was volunteering at one of the meal sites, a little girl told me that she really, really liked the hot pizza and smiled when she showed me the banana she had picked out. As she turned to go to a table to eat her lunch, she stopped, turned her head and whispered “Thank you”. Of course, that brought a smile to my face.
Special thanks and recognition to the Boys & Girls Club and Nourish for their partnership and help. The Boys & Girls Club staff for helping provide meal site supervision and to Tina from that organization for helping with the coordination of the many volunteers. Each week Nourish provided a snack that was part of the lunch and a short educational program on the snack item encouraging children to try new foods that just happen to be healthy food choices – fruits and vegetables. Thanks to the new partner in year five of the program – the Sheboygan Area School District. After the first four years, this program exceeded the capacity of the former administrative organization – Head Start - and we are happy that the school district stepped up to make sure this program could be offered this past summer.
Someone once said, “It must be nice to be a kid and hang out with your friends at lunch.” This is true, only if the child has a lunch to eat. Thanks to all of you who made lunch and breakfast possible for the children this summer.