Moms and dads in Northeast Kansas worried 13,633 less times about whether or not their children would eat lunch this past summer. That’s the number of times this year that Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ Summer Food Program provided meals to hungry kids.

A lot has changed since the program started three years ago. The number of sites has increased from 11 to 32, including 13
libraries. All are located where 50% or more of the children that live in the area receive free or reduced lunch during the
school year.

“Our aim is to have the program in sites like libraries, parks and community pools where kids are already gathering. There’s no social stigma attached. All kids are welcome to come in and have lunch,” says Emily Wildhaber, Summer Food Program.

The program, which experienced a 40% increase in number served over last year, relies heavily on parish and community volunteers. This past summer, 260 adults and children gave 2,711 hours. They helped set-up and distribute the nutritious sack lunches. They also engaged the children in fun activities at the sites including games, coloring and painting.

One of the biggest program additions has been offering adults meals so parents can eat lunch with their children. “After noticing that adult caregivers who were bringing their children to the Summer Food sites were also in need, we partnered with St. Agnes and Ascension parishes who generously provided well-balanced sack lunches for adults,” says Camille Pickhinke, Parish and Community Outreach Coordinator.

This summer, 1,631 adult meals were served. Feeding those adults changed the atmosphere of the Summer Food sites, says Pickhinke, adding, “We helped create an environment where families can share a meal, talk, laugh and simply spend time together.”

It’s hard to truly measure the impact Catholic Charities’ Summer Food Program has on families. For Desiree, a mother of five who brought her children to a site almost daily, the program was a difference-maker. It was something they looked forward to coming to, and it helped ease the financial burden of feeding her family. “This is a good time for us bonding together,” she says, “and getting to sit at the table and all eat together.”