After serving up more than 2,500 free lunches to local youth last summer, the North Liberty Summer Lunch and Fun program is now preparing for its second year of operation.
During the initial planning process, the North Liberty Unity Coalition — sponsors of the lunch program — found that North Liberty wasn’t eligible for most forms of financial assistance from the government because not enough children were receiving free and reduced lunches through the area schools.
As a result, the Unity Coalition decided to pursue its own solution.
“We had talked about it for quite a few years, the fact that in the summer time kids are out of school, and those who would get free or reduced lunch normally, aren’t receiving that service,” said Tina DuBois, executive director of the North Liberty Community Pantry.
If the federal government funded the program, each child would need to go through a qualification process before receiving eligibility for the program. The Unity Coalition didn’t feel comfortable saying yes to one child and no to another, DuBois said.
In response, last year, the organization created a free lunch service of their own, and the community responded with nothing but support, organizers say.
“People really enjoyed it,” DuBois said. “It was great to see some of the families building relationships with each other that may otherwise not have known each other before they came to the summer lunch.”
Specific income guidelines are not required, resulting in a diverse group of attending children and families. In hopes of building on last year’s success, a part-time coordinator has been funded by the North Liberty City Council to provide more consistency with activity planning and volunteer coordination, but the program is still in need of donations and volunteers.
Many local restaurants, church and volunteer groups assisted with providing and serving prepared meals last year. The Unity Coalition is currently looking for the same support, whether it is restaurants interested in providing meals, grocery stores providing fresh produce or individuals willing to commit to meal preparation. Financial donations are still needed to help fund food costs and activities.
As summer approaches, the Unity Coalition will be looking for general community volunteers, and because they are open to various event and activity ideas, they hope to find volunteers willing to lead different activities.
“If somebody had some great crafts they want to donate, we most likely could find someone who wanted to lead that craft activity,” DuBois said. “It could be anything—from science, to just something fun, to something active, we just want a wide range of activities.”
This summer, the free lunch program will take place on the lawn of the Ranshaw House north of the North Liberty Community Center, from June 8 to Aug. 14. Nutritional meals will be served 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and activities will run from 12-1 p.m.
For those wanting to get involved, visit the Summer Lunch & Fun website to find more information about the program.