WARM St. Ann's expand summer lunch program|
By JENNIFER NESBITT
ThisWeek Community News
Fewer Westerville students will go without nutritious lunches this summer, as the Westerville Area Resource Ministry and Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital expand the summer lunch program that began last year.
This year, WARM will offer lunches to children ages 1 through 18 at four locations: Ridgewood Park in Blendon Township, Huber Village Park in Westerville, Strawberry Farms Park in northeast Columbus and at La Vista Townhomes, an apartment complex on Schrock Road in a Columbus portion of the Westerville school district.
Dubbed the Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club, the program offers lunches for free, with no proof of income requirements, followed by recreational opportunities.
The program will be offered Monday through Friday for all of Westerville City Schools' summer break, from May 29 through Aug. 10.
To participate, children only need to show up with an adult.
WARM piloted the program at Ridgewood Park last year with the financial support of Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital. The program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's free lunch program, served more than 3,800 meals prepared by Westerville City Schools.
It was such a success, and the need in the community is so great, the program was expanded this year, said WARM program director Deb Wallace.
"We had a successful year last year that exceeded our expectations, and we knew there was additional need that was not being met with the (amount of) students who receive the free or reduced-price lunch during the school year," Wallace said.
Janet Meeks, president of St. Ann's, said the hospital supported the pilot program last year hoping that it would grow to serve all Westerville City Schools children in need.
More than one-third of the district's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year.
"Our dream was that through this pilot program, it would be likened to throwing a pebble in the water, so we dreamed about the ripple effect would happen," Meeks said. "We are following in the footsteps of the sisters (who founded St. Ann's): To reach out and meet the community need, and we want to be a catalyst to make sure that ultimately all of the children of the Westerville schools have healthy nutritious meals all year."
Mount Carmel St. Ann's has been crucial in providing the program, Wallace said. Though the funds are available for such programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many community groups aren't able to offer them.
"Nearly 1 million children are entitled to participate in the free summer lunch program" nationwide, Wallace said. "Far less than 10 percent of them will receive a free lunch. That's because the programs are expensive to administer and a challenge to operate."
The locations chosen for the program were selected because of their proximity to schools with a high number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, Wallace said.
The apartment complex being served has a large number of children in need, and WARM was contacted last year about providing meals there, Wallace said.
Though the children's primary need is a nutritious lunch, WARM has gone a step further by providing recreational programming, such as story time or organized sports games, after lunch to make the program something children want to attend.
Once a week, the park also has special programs by places such as the Columbus Zoo, Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District or the Westerville Public Library.
"I believe there are lots of children who will enjoy having lunch with us," Wallace said.
Wallace said WARM also is searching for volunteers to serve with the program, either setting up, cleaning up, serving meals or helping to lead recreational programming.
She said the hope is to have a group of regular volunteers so the children who participate in the program see the same faces, but volunteers can serve as much or as little as they like.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Wallace at 614-899-0196 or 614-805-9986, or by emailing Deb@warmwesterville.com.