Hillsboro’s summer lunch program will continue as in the past, though summer lunches for Marion are being discontinued.
Hillsboro’s summer Food 4 Kids program, operated out of Trinity Mennonite Church last summer, will make an encore this summer.
Pastor Norma Duerksen said the program served lunch to an average of 22 children per day last summer. Some days the program fed as many as 60 and on other days, less than 20.
“The doors opened at 12 and the kids went in and picked up a food bank package of food, which included milk,” Duerksen said.
The kids sat at tables with one adult at each table, and in addition to the sack lunch from the food bank, the church served diners a hot meat dish, fresh fruit, and a cookie, Duerksen said.
The reason the church supplemented the meals with additional food is because the meals from the food bank seemed to not be enough for the high-energy activities of summer play.
“Before they ate we had a Bible story and a prayer,” Duerksen said.
Everyone at the table had a chore to do to clean up,” Duerksen said. “They would throw away the trash, they would wipe the table and vacuum.”
The children who showed up for a meal were given a free pass to the pool.
“Those mothers told us early on that that was a real gift for them,” Duerksen said.
One thing volunteers noticed is that the children were not accustomed to sitting at a table to eat in “family style.”
Besides church members, others from the community pitched in to make the meals a success.
“The community has been so generous,” Duerksen said. “It just warmed my heart to have businesses contribute to the cost and send their workers over to help out.”
Even smaller contributions help, Duerksen said.
“Even if some people just bring a watermelon or a batch of cookies, we are so grateful for everyone’s participation,” Duerksen said.
The church took down children’s names and ages and tracked attendance.
Duerksen said the information was given to the school system for comparison and 88 percent of the kids qualified for free or reduced-price lunches at school.
About 200 community children qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school and the church is making efforts to help spread the word about this summer’s program, she said.
The Prairie View office in Hillsboro has a summer rehabilitation program for children, and the church anticipates about 77 children because of that, Duerksen said.
The Food 4 Kids program at Hillsboro will operate in the same manner as last year, Duerksen said. Doors will open at noon, no reservations are needed and no questions will be asked.
“Parents are welcome to come eat here, too,” Duerksen said.
Pulling it all off takes 10 volunteers per day to cook, serve, greet, hand out pool passes, read a Bible story, and lead prayer Duerksen said.
At Marion, a summer lunch progam last year had a disappointing turnout and the program has been changed in hopes of better attendance.
“Participation was very low last year,” said USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker. “We are doing a snack program at the pool.”
Gene Winkler, meal supervisor for the Marion program, said the Kansas Food Bank sponsors the snacks that will be given out during afternoons at the pool.
Last summer’s meal program drew in only nine or 10 kids daily, Winkler said. But pool snacks were more popular, with about 30-35 participants.
“Each day at 3, they shut the pool down for about 15 minutes and all kids 18 and under have to get out of the water and get a snack,” Winkler said.
Each day the kids can sign up for a drawing to win a bicycle to be given away at summer’s end.
Winkler said plans for the program aren’t yet finalized and additional features might be added later.
According to Kansas Action for Children, childhood hunger in Kansas is a growing problem. Children who don’t get enough to eat tend to make lower grades, get sick oftener, and are less likely to earn enough money to feed their own families when they are adults, KAC said.
The most recent statistics from Feeding America, based on data gathered in 2012, show that 20.8 percent of Marion County children are living in families where an unexpected expense means the family might not be able to buy enough food.
USD 408 records show that 43 percent of kindergarten through 12th grade students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.