A summer food program, sponsored by Open Door Ministries and subsidized and administered through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and USDA, is attracting hundreds of youth ages 18 and under, to a multitude of sites on weekdays to receive a free meal at lunchtime.
Open Door Board President Don Barbour said that all the food is cooked and packaged at Washington Elementary School by 12 paid staff members and then distributed to all the sites by noon.
The entire program is under the direction of Sue Foster, who came to Open Door in January, Barbour noted.
The program begins on the first Monday after school is out for the summer and ends on the last day of summer vacation before school resumes classes.
“It’s a five-day operation (with the exception of July 4)” Barbour said. At the present time, we’re serving approximately 1,400 meals per day (at 42 sites in Pettis, Benton and Moniteau counties).”
Some of the sites include Liberty Park, Centennial Park, Vermont Park, Heber Hunt Elementary , Washington Elementary, Sedalia Housing Authority, Sunset Village Mobile Home Park, Houstonia, Hughesville, La Monte, Dresden and Green Ridge.
“We do have various service and civic groups, and churches (involved) in planning activities beyond the meal,” mentioned Jack Menges, executive director of Open Door. “But we always need more help.”
At the Vermont Park site, which is a new one for the program, attendance went from one young boy at first to about 20-25 youngsters in a matter of weeks.
The food used in the program is purchased and prepared by the group, and the group is later reimbursed by the MDHSS and USDA at a set rate, Barbour said. “We also serve snack lunches and breakfast.”
Menges emphasized that none of the food comes from Open Door’s food bank. “This has nothing to do with the food bank. This is an entirely different program,” he said.
“We did 1,380 yesterday, and it’s very likely that we’re going to hit 1,500 today. And the third week in July is usually the big. We think we’re going to do close to 2,000 meals a day.”
Last year at the SHA, daily numbers were around 80. On Tuesday they saw 126 kids show up to claim a free lunch, Menges stated. “The word gets around.”
It takes about 80 volunteers in addition to the paid staff to make the summer food program a daily reality.
And at Centennial Park, which is also a new site, Missouri Valley Human Resources will be assisting with the program as well.
Volunteer Julie Kesterson was in charge of distributing the meals at Centennial Wednesday. “I’ve done this for five years. I help out when Sue (Foster) calls me,” she said. Kesterson was busy handing out Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, pears and cartons of milk to the kids. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia Weekly Observer.