North Liberty Unity Coalition set to launch free summer lunch program

Summer Lunch and Fun Program
Volunteers plan on incorporating locally sourced food. — photo by Bob Nichols

North Liberty will soon offer free lunches to children up to age 18 as part of the North Liberty Summer Lunch and Fun Program, sponsored by the North Liberty Unity Coalition. The inaugural program, which runs from June 9 – August 18, will take place on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the North Liberty Community Center (520 W Cherry St.).

The program has been in the planning stages for quite some time according to Tracey Mulcahey, North Liberty City Clerk and founding member of the Unity Coalition.

About five years ago, the organization began gathering information about grants available from groups like the USDA. After researching their options, they found that North Liberty wasn’t eligible for most forms of government assistance due to the fact that there weren’t enough children receiving free and reduced lunches through the schools. If a child hadn’t been properly registered and enrolled through the programs available at the time, he or she would have been turned away from any new, government-funded summer feeding programs the Unity Coalition could have tried to start.

Turning away hungry children based on federal guidelines wasn’t an option, Mulcahey says.

Over the winter, after noting an increased need for social services targeting low income families, the North Liberty Unity Coalition decided it was time to get their summer feeding program off the ground. Public support for such a program was strong, and after securing sponsorships from the North Liberty Optimist Club, food pantry and the University of Iowa Community Credit Union and Great Western Bank, the group decided that they finally had the resources to move forward with the Summer Lunch and Fun Program.

In addition to offering children a free daily meal regardless of their families’ respective financial situations, Mulcahey says the Unity Coalition will include nutrition and fitness-based programming to help teach kids about maintaining healthy lifestyles.

Daily post-meal programming will be provided by the sponsor of that day. On days sponsored by the City of North Liberty, for example, Mulcahey says there will either be a library or recreational component. On food pantry sponsored days, the programming will be primarily nutrition-based. Most of the programming consists of outdoor games like kickball or red rover. More information about daily activities for the Summer Lunch and Fun program is available here.

The Unity Coalition hopes to emphasize locally-sourced food as the program develops.

Following the example set by groups like Farm to Schools, Mulcahey says she hopes the group will be able to work with Christian charity organization Seeds 4 Seniors to set up a planter somewhere near the community center.

“It would be cool if [the planter] could be completely comprehensive, and they could plant it and then eat it later,” Mulcahey said. “With this being our first year, a lot of those kinds of details will kind of shake out as the year goes on.”

For those looking to take part, the program is currently accepting volunteers and monetary donations.

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