Solid start for summer lunch program, with room to grow
More than two dozen Red Wing children were spared from going hungry this summer thanks to a new lunch program at Colvill Family Center, but volunteers said they want to feed many more next year.
The weekday program averaged 30 children per service, dishing out 1,276 free meals from June to mid-August, according to United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties. Once children were done eating, the program served an additional 74 meals to parents and other adults.
“It was a huge success in that it served kids every day for 12 weeks,” said local United Way Executive Director Maureen Nelson about the program, adding that it reached more children than the organization’s past attempts at a summer version of its Packing for the Weekend program.
“It was the best summer of feeding kids that we’ve had in Red Wing,” she said. “Even if we didn’t feed as many as we wanted, we fed more than we ever have.”
United Way provided financial support for the meals, which were reimbursed through the Minnesota Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program. The food was prepared by staff at St. Brigid’s at Hi-Park.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the Hunger Free Kids Network of Every Hand Joined provided administrative or support services, along with other community groups and churches totaling 120 adult volunteers.
Nelson said she was glad to see so many people step up to address hunger in Red Wing, but some days there were more volunteers than children. She said the goal now is to attract a larger crowd next year by making meals more accessible and appetizing to local youths.
Colvill Family Center was chosen as the meal site because of its proximity to a “pocket of poverty” in the East End neighborhood, said Ethan Seaberg, a summer food program representative with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
The building worked well this year, he said, but the challenge for next summer will be finding ways to either bring more children in or move meals around to different locations.
One possibility is a van or car service that would deliver food to several volunteer-run sites around the city, Nelson said.
“Other communities are having the exact same problems, and they’ve come up with some of those mobile solutions,” Seaberg added.
Organizers also learned which menu items children were most likely to pass on, Nelson said. Tuna sandwiches won’t return, for instance, as the amount of fish needed to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture protein requirement was too much for many children to stomach.
One surprise, Nelson noted, was how well the children behaved. Volunteers were warned that there might be discipline problems during meals, but reported no major incidents.
Just the opposite, Nelson said, many of the children were appreciative of the food and learned the importance of nutrition.
She recalled one girl in particular who started coming to the meal services with her brother. One day Nelson said she saw her eating alone and asked why her brother was absent.
“And she said, ‘He’s home eating snacks, but I came to eat a healthy lunch,’” Nelson said. “So I was really proud of her.”