Fourth-grade teacher Michelle Halperin looked around at the summer meal site in Elmira’s Grove Park last year and marveled at all she saw…a puppet show about respecting people with disabilities while volunteers from The Arc handed out lunches to children. Kids playing football and getting help with math. Families thumbing through books.
“It hit me as I was sitting there…all that was offered in that one pavilion in that one park,” says Michelle, a member of the Child Hunger Task Force of Chemung County.
This year, the task force is building a summer meals program that takes the emphasis off “free food” and draws families together with “fun, friends and food.”
The Family Reading Partnership of Chemung Valley and the Chemung County Library District are working with churches, youth centers, schools, The Arc of Chemung, Catholic Charities and many others to make summer meals fun and educational.
Michelle says the collaborative efforts of the agencies and volunteers make her proud of Elmira and Chemung County. “It’s something no one organization could do alone,” she says. “When kids see all these elements coming together they say, ‘Hey, this is fun,’ and, ‘This is my community. I belong here,”
Meal sites are open to all, and are a way to help kids – many of whom may not get a vacation – have fun, but also access many resources that boost nutrition, literacy and socialization. Jennifer Berton, the Food Bank’s Community Collaboration Coordinator who organizes the task force, says kids in need often experience a “summer slide” when schools are closed and some have less access to books.
“We want to turn that summer slide into a summer leap forward,” Jennifer says. “Food brings people together and all this other magic happens around that.”
Learn more about summer meals and see a schedule of meal sites at www.foodbankst.org/food-for-kids