Jul 11, 2011

Free lunch program keeps children fed in the summer

“Do you guys have the free lunches?” a young boy asked as he walked up to the picnic table at the park beside the swimming pool in Nelsonville on a recent summer day.

This young man was one of hundreds of children who receive free lunches in Nelsonville every day throughout the summer. The lunches are passed out by the Nelsonville Community Center, thanks to a grant-funded program from Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action.

“I think this is amazing,” said Rhonda Bentley, director of the Nelsonville Community Center. “I love this program.”

This is the third year the Nelsonville Community Center has run the lunch program, and the eighth year that Rhonda has been involved with it.

“This is for all children,” Rhonda added. The program does not have any income guidelines, eligibility rules or other regulations. It’s simple; kids just walk up to the table and ask for a lunch.

“All children are welcome,” Rhonda said.

Brittney Bartlett (shown in the image on the right), helps with the lunch program and explained that they pass out 175 free lunches each day.

On Mondays through Thursdays, they pass out sack lunches filled with items like cheese sandwiches, fruit, fruit juice, milk and other items.

“They’re really healthy lunches,” Brittney said. On Fridays, they pass out Domino’s Pizza (made with whole wheat crusts to make them healthier) along with sacks filled with food items the kids can eat for meals at home over the weekends. The volunteers also pass out afternoon snacks on Mondays through Fridays.

“The kids love the lunches,” Brittney said.

Volunteer Stacey Bentley said that many local families don’t have enough money to provide three meals a day for their children in the summer, so the lunch program is very beneficial. Some children fill up on the lunches and the snacks each day because they may not have a meal at home in the evening.

“The kids are allowed to take seconds so they can eat as much as they’d like,” Stacey said. She added that many families have money at the beginning of the summer to pay for pool passes for their children, but they can’t afford to send money with them to the pool every day to buy their lunches. Many of the children swim for much of the day and take breaks to eat the free lunches and snacks.

On Friday, Aug. 12, the Nelsonville Community Center will pass out backpacks and school supplies to local children, all free of charge. The Center is planning to hold a special event at the park next to the pool that day, and will have activities for children. The Center is currently accepting donations of school supplies to pass out and will accept donations up until Aug. 12. Many families can’t afford school supplies or backpacks, so the Nelsonville Community Center is hoping to help as many families as possible.

The Nelsonville Community Center, located at 77 W. Washington St., on the Public Square in Nelsonville, also offers numerous activities and services throughout the week, including a free community lunch on Fridays. The Center sells used furniture to help pay its bills, and invites all area residents to stop in to see the wide range of furniture items in excellent condition that are for sale at very low prices.

For more information on the Nelsonville Community Center, the lunch program or the school supplies donations, call the Center at 740-753-4100.

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