Summer Food Outreach program for children proves successful - 'one day, one child at a time'
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 20:57

WINAMAC - A new summer food outreach program for Winamac area children has proven to be successful - reaching over 70 children with over 430 meals and nearly 450 weekend Buddy (food) Bags - thanks to the leadership and dedication of over 80 volunteers from local churches and other organizations.

A recently prepared summary report of the project reveals the program met its outlined goals. Nearly $6,000 was donated by groups, businesses and individuals to fund the project, known as "Warrior Up for Jesus! Fun and Food Outreach" that was held summer weekdays at the Pulaski County Public Library in Winamac.

 

The program offered a healthy lunch to an average of almost 15 children daily. Fun, meaningful activities were included three days a week. Also, Buddy Bags (food) were sent home each Friday with participating children, and were delivered to Ripley and Star City pick-up locations later on Friday afternoons. A total of 113 Buddy Bags were delivered to these sites, and 23 participants received a bag at least one time.

The idea for the project had its beginnings a year earlier when two middle school youth from Winamac First United Methodist Church, returning home from a inner city mission trip in Fort Wayne, began asking questions about what they could do to make a difference in the lives of people in their own county.

Inspired by the youths in her charge, Mary Marty, director of the church's family and youth ministry program, began brainstorming community service ideas with the teens and other church and community members.

"As this summer approached, we became very aware that there are children in our school district who gain access to most of their daily food intake while at school because they are on free and reduced lunches, but who do not have access to nutritional meals on a daily basis when school is not in session," Mrs. Marty noted.

The scheme for a children's summer food outreach project began to take shape.

The planners received encouragement from MacKenzie Ledley, administrator of the Pulaski County Public Library. She shared that in recent summers several local children were spending their days at the library, many who appeared to have no provisions for lunch or snacks. She and the library board offered the community room at the library as the location for the project.

The Warrior Up program was organized, with leadership, suggestions and support from seven local churches, the Pulaski County Extension office, library staff and others. The program was offered from May 30 through Aug. 4, for two hours at mid-day. The children participating ranged in age from 3 to 15, and were nearly evenly divided between boys and girls. Some came once and never came back. Some began in May, and others filtered in through June and July. Some children came one day a week and others nearly every day.

Some participating children met the criteria of being on free and reduced lunches (self-identified); others were referred by library staff; and some came as a result of their family coming to help with the program. 

A nutritious lunch was served each day. On the three days with learning time, discussion and faith-based curriculum ranged from such fun and/or serious topics as bugs, bullying, nutrition and God, to giving others a chance, making good decisions, respecting others and a whole lot more. 

On Fridays, the Purdue Extension staff joined the group to explore the world of nature, health  and technology, and used STEM materials to create and explore. One day during the county fair, the children joined the Extension staff at the fair and saw what 4-H was all about.

Of the 80-plus volunteers who helped with the summer program, almost 30 were teenagers. Everymorning there were at least three persons working over two hours to prepare and deliver food to the library. Each day there were at least five volunteers working at the library to oversee the lunch and learning programs.

On Wednesdays there were five volunteers working at the Methodist church, setting-up for Buddy Bag packing on Thursdays. On Thursdays there were at least five persons packing Buddy Bags for Friday deliveries. And on Fridays there were at least three additional persons involved in getting the Buddy Bags ready and delivered to the outlying areas.

In addition, there were volunteers who helped develop and provide the programming. Others provided cookies and material goods, or made financial contributions.

Some businesses provided financial support by donating or giving reduced prices for products. Among those who supported the program were REMC, Pulaski County Association of Churches, Indiana Conference of United Methodist Church, Bethel Bible Church, Casey's General Store, Good to Go, VFW Post 748, Kelly Advisory Group, Kocher Law Office and many generous community members who gave of their time and resources.

Funds donated to the program that were not used will be saved as seed money for next summer's outreach.

"Statistics rarely tell the entire story of what happens when a community comes together in some form to reach out and help their neighbors," Mrs. Marty observed. " I believe those who worked the program built new relationships with persons from other churches and community groups.

"However, statistics are important when money has been given to support specific causes," she added, noting the summary report supported that the program's goals were reached. "This happened not all at once, but rather, one day, one week, one child, one family at a time as they received lunches and weekend nutritional supplies, an affirmation of worth and dignity, and a warm welcome whether they came once or every day. "Always, one person at a time."