Four years after they first began delivering brown-bag lunches to local children, volunteers at the Food for Kids program at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans are planning to serve 35,000 meals this summer, reaching kids in all eight towns of lower/outer Cape Cod. Food for Kids helps fill the gaps for the many Cape Cod children who rely on the federal free and reduced lunch program during the school year. Between June 25 and Aug. 25, Food for Kids will deliver daily lunches, breakfasts, snacks and, in one case, dinners to 14 sites on Cape Cod.
This year, founder Ruth Campbell has stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the program, and is focusing on outreach. Longtime Food for Kids volunteers Brenda Ridgeway and the Rev. Anne Koehler are now co-directors, leading the large operation of 100 volunteers who prepare, pack and deliver meals. The program has also hired a program director, who during the school year works in the regional public schools lunch program.
Because Food for Kids is funded primarily by the USDA, the placement of the sites is dependent on whether the location is in a federally recognized poverty area. Most of Food for Kids’ sites are town recreation programs, which, because they are located in recognized poverty areas, are “open sites,” meaning that any child can receive a meal. These town recreation programs provide crucial childcare for the many Cape Cod parents, especially those who often juggle multiple jobs during the busy summer months. Food for Kids also delivers meals to some summer camps and housing developments, but the program is limited by these poverty designations.
“For example, we can’t do a big lunch in Brewster or Harwich,” Ridgeway said. “We feel there’s need, but it’s not recognized as an area of need so we wouldn’t be eligible for any reimbursement. That’s our biggest frustration, not being able to reach all the kids we would like to.”
Every day, volunteers at the Church of the Holy Spirit work from 7 to 10:30 a.m. to prepare and pack lunches, and then pass them off to volunteer drivers. Drivers must leave by 10:30 a.m. to reach sites in Provincetown by lunchtime. Each location has a trained site supervisor who oversees the distribution of lunches and ensures that food is handled safely.
Volunteers come from the Church of the Holy Spirit and many other local churches and community organizations. “There are some wonderful relationships that are built among the volunteers as they’re sharing in providing food for the kids,” Ridgeway said.
Through grant funding, Food for Kids is able to provide meals to some smaller sites outside of designated need areas, such as a camp in Brewster. The program delivers lunches for the kids attending the camp on vouchers. Grants have come from Episcopal City Mission, United Way, Cape Cod 5 Savings Bank and others.
Grant funding also provides more than 2,500 books that are distributed to children over the course of the summer. Volunteers place “golden tickets” in about seven lunch bags per site, per day, and the children who find the tickets in their lunch get to choose a book. (The bags with tickets are subtly marked, so that site supervisors can make sure that different kids receive books each day.) Ridgeway said that over the course of the summer, each child who is a regular attendee will receive several books.
To learn more about Food for Kids and how to get involved, visit the program's page on the Church of the Holy Spirit Web site.
--Ellen Stuart Kittle