EIU Volunteers Help Staff Free Summer Meals Program for Children in Charleston, Ashmore
School lunches are an important part of the nutrition for many school-age children -- especially for low- to moderate-income families. But, when summer comes, school lunches stop -- a challenge for many families, according to Rachel Fisher, director of Student Community Services at Eastern Illinois University.
“Summer can be a crucial time for hunger in our community,” Fisher said. “While proper nutrition is important throughout the entire year, it may be even more important in the summer as children increase their activity levels.
“And that comes just at the time when they no longer have access to school lunch programs and resources,” she said.
That’s why EIU decided to join with the Salvation Army from Mattoon to provide free lunches for children in Coles County. Funding for the program -- The Summer Meals Program -- is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.
“The Salvation Army is doing a great job covering Mattoon,” Fisher said, “but we all agreed that there was a need in Charleston, as well.”
EIU joined the program last year with an initial site at Kiwanis Park, but Fisher said they were concerned that they weren’t reaching the heart of the community.
“It was a great facility,” she said, “but we wanted to be right in a neighborhood where parents and kids could walk to the site.”
So, this year, EIU is staffing two sites -- one at North Park in Charleston and a second at Ashmore Village Park in Ashmore. Two student volunteers -- Olivia Diggs and Kendra Moultrie -- staff the Charleston site from 11:45 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., and then are available in Ashmore from 1 until 1:30 p.m.
“We serve any child 18 and under,” Fisher said, “and there is no requirement to show proof of age or residency. We just want to make sure that no child goes hungry.”
In addition to the USDA funding for the lunches, the Salvation Army obtained a grant from Walmart to provide a take-home breakfast for the next morning, as well.
“Providing that second meal is a real benefit to families,” Fisher said, “and helps make sure that children in this area get the food they need.”
One additional feature of this year’s Summer Meals Program is the availability of adult meals.
“This year, if an adult wants to come along and eat with their children, they are welcome to do so,” Fisher said. “They just need to pay a modest fee of $2 to cover the cost of their meal.”
Fisher said that she hopes the community takes full advantage of the opportunity because she’s already planning to expand the number of volunteers for next year.
“EIU students are dedicated year-round to our community,” she said, “and many students are eager to work directly with helping and interacting with local youth. There is a great passion and desire to make a true impact and difference.”
Fisher also noted that community members are welcome to join with the EIU students and help out one or more days a week.
For information about the Summer Meals Program or any of EIU’s volunteer efforts, call the Office of Student Community Service at 581-3967.