The last of the plastic folding picnic tables are making their way to storage. Over the noon hour today, Home Depot volunteers in bright orange t-shirts gave out the last lunches of summer to children living in the Ticknor Terrace apartments across the street from the GRACE Main offices on East Walnut Street.
The smiling eyes above colorful facemasks, the muffled giggles, and grateful “thanks” shouted through layers of fabric are memories to the hundreds of volunteers who braved this very challenging Feed Our Kids season.
Concerns about COVID-19 exposure were simply added to the fears of torrential downpours, lightning strikes, and blistering heat for the volunteers who served eleven weeks at six sites throughout the city. In all, more than 32,000 lunches were given to hungry children during this 14th season of GRACE Feed Our Kids, according to Lori Stevens, GRACE Seasonal Programs Manager.
It is a bittersweet time for Lori, who began work early in the spring to secure volunteer groups and then conducted training sessions via Zoom for group leaders to manage their sites. New protocols were developed to adhere to masking and social distancing requirements. New methods of providing meals were instituted to protect both children and volunteers.
For Lori, the sadness of saying goodbye to the volunteers—and to the neighborhoods of children—is eased by knowing so many barriers were conquered successfully to make sure children were well-fed.
Summer feeding programs were rare when Feed Our Kids started 14 years ago. Children on the school’s free and reduced lunch program were left with very few options when summer started. Even now the other feeding programs require children to walk several blocks, many crossing busy streets, to get lunch.
Feed Our Kids volunteers go directly into their neighborhoods, set up tents and give out meals and goody bags. As simple as that concept sounds, the coordination, scheduling volunteer help, securing provisions, and managing site facilities is quite an undertaking.
The Feed Our Kids program, and the children who would go hungry without it, rely solely on the generosity, drive and commitment of its volunteers.
Congratulations to all who made Feed Our Kids a part of their lives this summer. On behalf of GRACE: Job well done!
On behalf of those you served: You may never know the extent of the good you’ve accomplished or the lives you’ve changed, but know that years from now, these kids—then grown—will remember this summer—and realize the struggles you overcame and the good times they had at Feed Our Kids.