Partnership to bring free food to youth

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor in Chief

Children 18 and under will have a chance to get a free lunch from June 5 to Aug. 10 during the Summer Meal 2017 program.

Beth Gillespie, director for the civic engagement and volunteerism office, said people with either a mental or physical disability, regardless of age, can receive the free lunches.

The partnership with the volunteerism office and the Salvation Army was established four years ago, said Crystal Brown, the assistant director for the civic engagement and volunteerism office.

The meal program will be available from Monday to Thursday at three locations around Charleston and close to Eastern’s campus.

The locations will be the Textbook Rental Center, 975 Edgar Drive, from 11:30 to 11:50 a.m.; the fairgrounds next to Lincoln/Douglas Museum from 12:05 to 12:25 p.m.; and Lafferty Nature Center, 1825 S. Douglas Dr., from 12:40 to 1 p.m.

Gillespie said the locations were decided based on proximity to apartment buildings, houses and schools so it can be convenient for the children.

“That’s part of the reason why we choose these locations is because we are trying to be close enough that the children can get to us and get to the free food in a safe way,” Gillespie said. “So a 6-year-old does not have to cross Lincoln or 5 blocks to the park alone.”

The meal schedule will be consistent throughout the summer.

All of the meals are sponsored by the “Food on the Move” grant, and the meals change daily.

Gillespie said the meals are like school lunches, consisting of a main dish, fruit, a drink and a snack.

The meal is supposed to substitute what students are used to eating during the school year, Gillespie said.

Children do not need any adult supervision to receive food; however, the children and teens must finish the entire meal before leaving, Brown said.

No identification will be needed and the participants do not need to fill out any paperwork, Brown said.

“That’s the nice thing about this is that it’s an opportunity for any family to come and get food for their kids,” Gillespie said.

Volunteers are invited to help pass out food to the children and families that participate. Students or community members living in Charleston over the summer can request to help by emailing [email protected] or calling the office.

Gillespie said she enjoys spending time with the families and learning about the community members, especially last year when she learned about a young boy sticking a quarter up his nose, breaking his arm and spending time on the middle school football team.

“We had a family come last year regularly, and the best part for us, other than obviously getting food into the hands and mouths of kids, is being able to build a relationship with them,” Gillespie said.

Another place where community members can have access to free food is the Charleston Food pantry.

The pantry is open every Thursday night.

Brown said this can provide families enough food to last for three nights.

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].