By Michelle Williams
More than 2,400 children in Boone County are food insecure. In Lebanon, Hattie B. Stokes Elementary School has a 78 percent free and reduced lunch rate. The students have such a great need that a food pantry exists inside the school.
The Lebanon Community of Shalom is responding to the need of food insecure children in Boone County with its Shalom Kids’ Sack Lunch program. The program provides weekly lunches during the summer to children who are part of a free and reduced lunch rate program at any school in the county.
In the summer of 2007, a LCS board member was contacted by employees of the Lebanon Community School Corporation reporting that a group of children had knocked on the school doors asking if any lunches were being served.
“That’s where it all started, long before the Kids’ Lunch Program was in place,” said program coordinator at LCS, Lisa Williams. “The people at Shalom started by packing sack lunches for the kids in the park that summer.”
Today, the Kids’ Lunch Program serves more than 25,000 lunches to more than 5,000 kids. Lunches are packed weekly at Love Inc. and delivered through eight county-wide distribution centers. Since LCS is managed by only one part-time employee, the entire lunch program is administered by volunteers and funded by donations.
LCS works with more than 13 large volunteer groups throughout the county to plan weekly menus, shop for food, pack the lunches, transport to the distribution centers and distribute to the children served by the program. Weekly funding requirements range from $3,500 to $5,000, and the organization operates the program without the assistance of government funding.
Each week, children are able to pick up a package that includes five lunches, a whole fruit, a book and a voucher for two percent milk from Aldi.
“It’s really important to us that the lunches are as nutritionally balanced as possible,” Williams said. “Most of these kids are stay at home kids with parents who work. They might be at the elementary or middle school stage, so they’re at home and they have to fix these foods themselves. We try to make them as easy as possible to fix as well.”
Mary Grabianowski, a Zionsville High School teacher and now a LCS board member, learned about the needs of the Zionsville community during the LCS annual meeting three years ago.
A member at Zionsville Christian Church, she quickly volunteered her church community to manage the need in Zionsville.
ZCC now serves as the distribution site in Zionsville.
“They are very unique from the other sites because they have taken on doing educational workshops and activities for the kids. A lot of them are teachers in the school system and affiliated with the library,” Williams said.
The ZCC volunteer group plans weekly activities for the children – such as trips to the zoo and nature hikes – in addition to the lunches.
“If kids are fed and healthy and have good activities, then they’re going to be better educated, better adults and everything else,” Grabianowski said.
The goal of her church volunteer group is to break the cycle of poverty for the families they serve through the lunch program.
“The statistics are daunting in Boone County, and most of the kids come from families where parents work,” said Grabianowski, who encourages as many as she can to get involved with the children.
Williams has directed the program for nearly two years, working to support the overall mission.
“We’re trying to inspire and nurture the community so we can make sure there is social justice out there so that the people who are struggling in their life, especially the children, are able to get the same opportunities and have the same advantages as everyone else,” she said.
- The Kids’ Lunch program has been in place since 2007, and started with a group of volunteers packing lunches at the Shalom House to give to kids in a nearby park.
- When the operation became too big for the Shalom House, volunteers began packing lunches at the Campbell Center. Today, lunches are packed for the county-wide program at Love Inc.
- In the summer of 2014, more than 5,000 kids were served 25,000 lunches.
- All three school communities in Boone County are served: Western Boone, Lebanon Community School Corp and Zionsville Community School Corp.
- Each week, over 2,000 lunches are prepared, and the food required ranges in cost from $3,500 to $5,000.
- Distribution sites are all outdoors. There are eight distributions sites across the county.
- Volunteer groups are typically 10-12 people. Groups interested in volunteering may contact Lisa Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The only requirement for children to receive lunches is that they are part of their school’s free or reduced lunch program.
- Many of the children served stay at home alone during summer days, and often prepare their own lunches.
- The free and reduced lunch program just in Lebanon is at a 42 percent rate – this is the highest in the county.
- There are at least 2,400 children in Boone County who are considered food insecure.