Summer Food 4 Kids serving up thousands of meals in Hillsboro

HILLSBORO – Trinity Mennonite Church, in cooperation with congregations around the Hillsboro community, are making sure area children are fed this summer. Trinity Mennonite Church Pastor Norma Duerksen has headed up the program, now in its seventh year. The church hands out meals, and pool passes, to children from noon to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. With a cadre of volunteers and just one paid staff member, Duerksen said 428 meals were served in just the first two weeks of the program this summer. While the program averages 71 meals per day, Duerksen said last Thursday when the program served 90 meals, “We were scrambling!” “It was dreamed up for free and reduced lunch kids, to help feed them during the summer. We know those parents are trying to pay bills, and when the kids are home, it drains their money away from other things,” said Duerksen. Duerksen explained, “Since the Hillsboro School District does not have more than 50 percent of its students in the free and reduced lunch program, we do not qualify for free government food.” Duerksen said meals cost $3.88. Earlier in the summer, Duerksen projected the program would average of 40 children daily for the 54 days of the program totaling $8,381. In addition to a meal, children age 8 and older receive a free, one-day pool pass. Duerksen said the pool passes are a way to ensure children have a safe, supervised environment during the day. However, the program is invoiced $2 per pool pass used. Using the same average of 40 children per day for 54 days, pool passes will cost $4,320. Already this summer, averages are above Duerksen’s initial projections. “The program costs about $17,000 with a paid cook and janitor. $12,000 is spent on food, and then there’s $5,000 for paid staff,” she said. This year, Duerksen said children from infants through late teens have taken advantage of the lunches. “This year we have older kids, 17-16-15-14, in the past it was third and fourth graders, the majority nine and 10-year-olds. But now they’re teenagers and coming back. We’re seeing older kids come through. A lot are new, but some are repeats and have been here, [in previous years]” she said. The first year of the program, Duerksen said they utilized the food bank to source food and gave out simple meals. “We said, ‘We can cook. We’ll make them lunch.’ and our plan was for one hot dish, veggies, fruit and a cookie,” she said. In its first year the program averaged 20 meas, served 112 individuals in 48 families with 31 volunteers. This year, Duerksen projected serving an average of 40 meals per day with dozens of volunteers and two paid staff members. Duerksen added when gardens begin producing, residents donate fresh vegetables for meals. A constant need, she said, are cookies to pack with lunches. The program has added paid staff, a cook to prepare dozens of meals daily and janitor. Supplies are sourced from local vendors as often as possible. Five volunteers arrive at the church each weekday to help pack meals and hand out lunches. In just 30 minutes, volunteers cut portions, clean and chop fruits and vegetables, package food and pack take out sacks. “We have fun together. We can visit and still get our work done. So far, we’ve been able to meet the timeframe, coming in half an hour before mealtime,” she said. Over the last seven years, Duerksen said a need is clearly being met in the community. “It was God’s idea in the first place,” she said. Duerksen said she finds joy in the camaraderie of the community, “My jaw drops ever time we have all these volunteers. It’s so cool, such a God thing.” Getting to know the children in the community and provide them with such a basic need is the foundation of long relationships, which are particularly important, coming out of the pandemic. “Now this year the pool is open and I get to meet them again and learn their names and check in with them and talk with them and learn to know these kids and see how they’ve grown. “We see a lot of the same kids. There was a boy who started with us as a two year old, he’s nine now. It’s fun to watch them change and grow,” she said. Duerksen said residents interested in supporting the program can make donations of cookies, or cash, to help offset the cost of the food and staff. Checks can be sent to Trinity Mennonite Church, Hillsboro, with Summer Food 4 Kids in the memo line.

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