Free meals available for youth through summer program

Alyssa Cravens, Staff Reporter

The Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism has partnered with the Salvation Army to provide a free lunch to anyone 18 years old and younger during the summer.

Director Beth Gillespie said the end of the school year brings the end of school-provided meals during the day, and for many families in Coles County, it also brings the added stress of providing more meals throughout the week.

Gillespie said during the school year, parents and guardians are responsible for 21 meals per week, and the addition of 10 weekly meals in the summer can be a large burden for many to bear, which is where the summer meals program steps in.

There are high levels of food insecurity and poverty in Coles County, and the program is one thing the office can do to help address that need right in the community, she said.

The program began on Monday, and it ends on Aug. 8 of this year.

Assistant director Crystal Brown said it will be offered every week Monday through Thursday, with the exception of July 4.

There are no income conditions and anyone within the age requirement is welcome to come have a meal, Brown said.

Gillespie said one change to the program this year is that the office has partnered with the local schools and will be set up on-site with lunches for children to have a meal after they finish their day at summer school.

This is an important step in outreach, as the students will already be at the school and will not need to worry about finding a ride or getting to and from a lunch site, she said.

The program offers services at four different locations this year, Gillespie said.

Meals will be served at Neco Fields  from 11 a.m. to 11:20 a.m., at Long Acres from 11:30 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., at Carl Sandburg Elementary School from noon to 12:15 p.m. and at Textbook Rental from 12:20 p.m. to 12:40 p.m., she said. Free meals at Carl Sandburg Elementary will only be provided during the month of June.

Brown said participants do not need to sign up or make arrangements in advance; however, meals must be eaten on-site.

Gillespie said the program provided over a thousand lunches last summer, and the office expects an increase in that number this year with the continuing need and new addition of the school site.

Hunger affects every aspect of daily life, she said; if children are going through the day hungry, it can be difficult for them to focus on any task at hand.

“A lot of people when they wake up in the morning don’t know if they are going to have access to enough food for three balanced meals a day,” Gillespie said.

The program is necessary because it is important for students to have meals that are nutritionally adequate and can provide fuel for their bodies, she said.

Brown said the office’s principal purpose is catering to local families facing hunger and poverty problems and doing anything within its power to help the community with those issues.

Gillespie said the intent of the summer meals program and everything done within the office is to help students recognize not only that they have the power to make a difference in their community but that it is their responsibility to.

She said she encourages her students to look outside of their normal circle, pay attention to real problems happening in their community and take action to fix those problems.

Food insecurity is an easy problem to see, an easy problem to understand and is, therefore, an easy problem to do something about, Gillespie said.

For more information regarding the summer meals program, the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism is available at 581-3967.

Alyssa Cravens can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].