It was early morning and already hot. LJ smiled as he looked in his rearview mirror at the caravan of his fellow book club members. They were pulling into a warehouse driveway to unload donated food for a city-sponsored summer program that provided free lunches, the kind children usually receive during the school year. He got out of his SUV and waited for the others to join him. “Annie created a spreadsheet that inventories everything we brought. We have food to feed about one hundred kids and more they can take home.”
“Bif adjusted his cap, “My neighbors dropped off oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, plums, and cherries early this morning. I’ll take them to the assembly line so they can be packed for distribution.”
“Sounds good. The rest of us will help Robert and Howard unload the eggs they picked up. They need to go to the kitchen right now,” said LJ as he paused to watch an approaching stranger.
The young woman pointed to the press badge hanging around her neck. “Hello, I’m Susie Lee. I’m writing a story on summertime lunch programs for school-age children, and I was told you were the ideal volunteers to interview. Do you have a few minutes to share some basic information, and would it be okay if I followed you today while you work?”
LJ looked at the guys. “Are you okay with her request?”
Each nodded yes. “I’m going to unload the eggs. I don’t mind if you give her my name,” said Robert. “Me too,” said Howard, and they walked off.
“Okay, you can walk with us as we unload. Most of this food is perishable, so it needs to be refrigerated.”
“No problem, and thank you. I’ll get background information on each of you later in the interest of time. My first question is, why is there a need for free summertime food programs for children?”
“Kwasi, can you take this first question?”
“Sure. There are about twenty-two million children who rely on school meals annually. When summer comes and schools close, the meal programs shut down. This means the ninety days of summer are their most food-insecure time. Research shows summer mealtime programs can combat weight gain and susceptibility to chronic disease by providing nutritious food, which is what we’ve brought today. The free meal programs have also shown to slow summer learning loss and, long term, help increase high school graduation rates. Many cities have implemented these programs because it makes good economic sense.”
“During the school year, children can eat breakfast and lunch at school and even take-home food for the weekend. Does this program do the same?”
“Yes, this one does, and most of them do. Some programs offer food seven days a week, others Monday through Friday, and hand out grocery bags of food for weekend eating.”
Tim motioned Susie over to his open SUV. “I brought one hundred backpacks filled with healthy non-perishable food. These backpacks were packed by Kitchen on the Street, an organization that operates throughout Arizona and San Antonio, Texas. They created the Bags of Hope program to give children food to take home.”
LJ nodded, “The Houston Texas food bank sponsors Kids Café Summer Meals. Any child under eighteen is eligible for breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. You don’t have to be a student in the school district.”
Bif joined the group, “New York City’s Department of Parks and Recs offers a Free Summer Meals program. It is for children eighteen and under and includes people with disabilities who are enrolled in special ed programs regardless of age. It operates in schools, parks, libraries, pools, and food trucks in all five boroughs. In DC, the Washington DC Free Summer Meals Program has been recognized as the best program in the country for the ninth consecutive year. Most programs feed one out of seven hungry children. The DC program feeds one out of three. It also operates when there is a natural disaster, sudden school closure, or an extreme weather event, and anyone under eighteen is eligible. They include special needs students of any age too.”
Keith nodded, “My oldest son, who lives in LA, runs the Los Angeles Parks and Rec Department’s Free Summer Lunch Program. It’s a Grab and Go meal any kid eighteen and under can have Monday through Friday. In the San Francisco Bay Area, 510families.com lists the summer free meals programs in Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, San Leandro, and West Contra Costa County. They provide grab-and-go meals five days a week, and you can also take food home if necessary.”
Susie looked up from her notepad, “This is alternately impressive and sad. The idea that many children could go hungry in America without these programs is shocking. However, I will focus my story on how volunteers are stepping up to create and support these programs.”
“Might I suggest you consider a story on the disconnect between the amount of food grown worldwide and the number of people going hungry? According to a recent UN
Environment Report, today, the world’s farmers produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. Our global population is currently 7.6 billion. Food waste and conflict are the main culprits in our inability to feed the entire world.”
“Thanks for the tip, Kwasi. I will follow up on your story idea. May I ask, why do you all volunteer in this program?”
“I do it because I like trying new things.”
“I like to meet people,” Howard said as he walked up to the group.
Robert joined, “This is my community. I feel responsible for its well-being.”
I learn a new skill or information every time I volunteer,” said Keith. “So, for me, it’s about continuing to grow.”
Jake nodded; I agree with Keith and like to be challenged and have fun.”
LJ smiled at his brothers and Susie, “volunteering helps keep my blood pressure down and cognitive skills up. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to others.”
Annie and LJ are a fictional couple. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.