Those who worked diligenty throughout the past school year to implement a program that could feed children over the summer couldn’t be happier with how things are going in the program’s first summer in Nevada.
"Food That’s in When School is Out" has served, on average, 80 lunches and 35 snacks per serving day, according to Barb Mittman, director of YSS of Eastern Story County, which is overseeing the program.
"We are excited about the number of young people who are joining us for lunch at St. Patrick’s Church," said Mittman. "Each day (the program operates on Mondays and Wednesdays through July 31) we are welcoming first-time participants and look to continue that trend in July."
Over the winter months, Jean Kresse, director of United Way of Story County, led a group of community people in exploring the possibility of establishing a free summer meals program for kids in Nevada. Concerned about the growing number of "free and reduced cost meal participants" in the Nevada School District, it was feared that many children might not get a lot of good meals over the summer months.
Dr. Heather Ludwig, a teacher at Nevada High School, was one of the people who met with the group over the winter as they figured out how to set up a program here. Now, Ludwig is a regular volunteer when the meals are served.
"The program has been amazing. The smiles on the children’s and young adults’ faces is incredible. The many ‘pleases’ and ‘thank-yous’ make your heart melt as they are excited for the food and activities," Ludwig said.
Each Monday and Wednesday meal, which is served to any "solid-food eater through age 18" who wants to attend, is followed by an activity and then a snack. Meals are served between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., and activities start shortly thereafter.
Mittman is excited about the many "friends" the program has recruited to help provide programming and activities. They include: Nevada Parks and Recreation Department, Story County Medical Center, Nevada Public Library, VERB, Live Healthy Iowa (Iowa Sports Federation), Story County ISU Extension, Sports Bowl, the Nevada Schools and YSS. each of these organizations has provided activity leadership during the month of June. The program has also had a number of individuals who have volunteered to read aloud to children, and has enjoyed the tuba playing abilities of Jim Kilmer.
Another very important partner organization in the meals program, Mittman said, is HIRTA public transportation. Kresse approached HIRTA about whether they could help get kids to the meal site. HIRTA worked with the Nevada Schools Transportation Department to identify regular neighborhood stops that could be used this summer, and HIRTA has been making two stops south of Highway 30, two stops between Highway 30 and the south tracks, two stops in the central part of town and one stop on 10th Street north of the tracks to pick up kids and transport them to the Catholic Church.
"The (HIRTA) bus runs the pickup route starting around 11 a.m. and makes the return trip at 2 p.m.," Mittman said, adding that there is plenty of room on this bus and additional stops could be added if needed.
When they began to organize the meals program, Mittman said no one knew exactly how many young people would take part in it. They are pleased with the number of children coming so far, she said, noting that they have tried to remove many of the obstacles that would prohibit children from coming. "There is still room for more tables on Mondays and Wednesdays in July," she said, hoping that if there are still kids out there who would like a good meal, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity this coming month.
Mittman said volunteers who serve meals are hearing positive feedback from the young people who attend. They like hearing the kids say "thank you" and "see you Monday," but most of all they like the hugs, smiles and laughs they are experiencing. "Relationships are growing," Mittman said, "and we often get a chance to greet each other in other places on other days."
Ludwig said she continues to be amazed at what the community of Nevada is able to accomplish with a wide range of programs that help a multitude of people.
"Each day, a group of different volunteers - some dedicated for the whole time - come with a smile on their face and the eagerness to interact with our youth and be a positive role model for them while serving them a meal. Thank you to St. Patrick’s Church for being willing to house these eager youth; without your willingness to support this program, it would have been really hard to have it.
"Our community should be proud to once again support another way," Ludwig said, "of providing a positive activity for our youth, which includes feeding them."