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Church to feed children in the summer

Staff writers

When Norma Duerksen, pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Hillsboro, looked into her community, she discovered a concerning issue she wanted to address on a greater level than just in her congregation.

“A lot of times churches get stuck inside of their four walls,” Duerksen said. “We need to admit that we have the poor here in Hillsboro, and we need to take care of that.”

After researching the Hillsboro school district, she found statistics from the Kansas Food Bank that indicated over 200 Hillsboro students participate in the “free or reduced” lunch program.

“We know that if there is a need for food assistance during the school year, the need certainly does not go away in the summer,” she said.

Data that Hillsboro Food Bank manager Ciara Cox has recorded reinforces Duerksen’s findings.

“There is definitely a need,” Cox said. “I see it firsthand. Every month new families from all over the county come in.”

On average, Cox said Hillsboro Food Bank serves about 80 families per month. She said that varies from 50 in some months to as many as 115 in others.

“During the school year, numbers served aren’t as high,” she said. “Serving definitely picks up during the summer, but families can only come in to the food bank once a month. Anytime there is a need, it’s better if that need can be filled more often.”

Trinity seemed like a natural place for the program to begin, Duerksen said, because her church has ample space to store food and feed the children, while being just two blocks from the pool.

The plan is to serve a noon meal to K-12 children who live in USD 410 and provide free passes to the city pool for eight- to 18-year-olds.

“This is not a program for free swimming,” Duerksen said. “It is intended to give all children a chance for one healthy, balanced meal each weekday. Each child who comes will be expected to eat the meal at the church, help with some cleanup. Then they will receive a pool pass for that day.”

“Shelf-ready” meals that don’t require cooking will be served. They will include food items like peanut butter, sunflower kernels, whole grain graham crackers, jelly, applesauce, 100-percent juice, and milk that doesn’t spoil when left unopened and unrefrigerated.

Trinity’s program is similar to Marion’s “Summer Lunch Bunch” program, but there is a major difference.

“We’re buying all the food,” Duerksen said. “We don’t qualify for free federal food assistance.”

To get free federal food assistance, she said greater than 50-percent of Hillsboro students had to be enrolled in the “free or reduced” lunch program — USD 410 has 36.74-percent enrolled in it.

Trinity’s program begins May 25 and continues until Aug. 16.

Meal and pool passes are free to children, and parents will not be a required to show income status in order for their kids to participate.

If 25 children show up each day, the program is expected to have $7,500 in expenses, but if that budget is exceeded by greater participation, the church will acquire more resources.

Trinity is seeking volunteers to serve food to the children, Duerksen said, and the church plans to solicit donations from the community.

For more information, to volunteer, or make a donation, call Trinity Mennonite Church at (620) 947-3824.

Last modified May 7, 2015

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