The Illinois Coalition for Community Services (ICCS) is partnering with three Bureau County communities to provide free lunches this summer for area children and teens.
The lunch programs are being held Monday through Friday in Princeton, DePue and Spring Valley. The DePue program began last week at the school, with 28 meals served. The Princeton program begins Wednesday, June 11, at the First United Methodist Church. The Spring Valley program begins Friday, June 13, in the community room at City Hall.
ICCS program Director Jillian Severinski said the ICCS is partnering in Princeton with the Tri-County Opportunities County, Princeton School District and the First United Methodist Church. In DePue, the ICCS is partnering with the school district. In Spring Valley, the ICCS is partnering with the city and Project Success. The purpose of the summer lunch program is to provide a healthy meal on an ongoing basis during the summer months when children and teens are not receiving meals at their schools, she said.
The free lunch program is open to all children, toddlers through 17 years old, and is not based on family income. Reservations are not needed. Donations will not be taken. When children and young people sign in each day, they are asked only their name and age, so organizers have an idea of how much food to order. They are not even asked to identify their town, Severinski said.
More volunteers are needed at all three sites to help with the programs. A volunteer training session is set for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church. A second training session will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Spring Valley City Hall. Both trainings will take about an hour and a half. Volunteers are needed in a variety of ways, including serving the meals, clean-up and helping with organized activities prior to the noon meal. Volunteers may help out as much as their time allows. Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer is strongly encouraged to attend a training session, Severinski said.
The Spring Valley, DePue and Princeton programs are among the 50 free summer lunch programs statewide sponsored by the ICCS. The programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Severinski said prior to establishing the local programs, the ICCS met with a variety of community leaders to work on a needs assessment of each community. It was the community members themselves who identified a summer food program as a need.
In order to qualify for the federally-funded program, a community must have at least one school in the community which has more than 50 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced school lunch program. There are definitely other schools in the area which qualify for the program, and the ICCS would like to expand the program in the future, she said.
Both the Princeton and Spring Valley lunch programs will include organized activities prior to the noontime meal. DePue does its own activities more concentrated through the local 4-H program, with the ICCS and its partners only doing the lunch program.
Speaking to the needs in the Princeton community, Tri-County Opportunities Council Director Vanessa Hoffeditz said the Princeton-based food pantry serves 160-170 households, with the needs going up during the summer. With school out for the summer, there is a gap that needs to be filled to provide area children with a nutritious lunch. By meeting that lunch need during the week, hopefully that will free up money for weekend meals. But again, the ICCS summer lunch program is not just for families who use the food pantry, she said.
For more information on the program or information about how to volunteer, contact Severinski at 440-376-1005 or by emailing her at email@example.com.
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Summer Food Service Program sites
• The DePue program runs from June 3 through July 18, Monday through Friday, at the DePue Unit School, 204 Pleasant St. Lunches are served noon to 1 p.m.
• The Princeton program runs from June 11 through Aug. 15, Monday through Friday, at the First United Methodist Church, 316 S. Church St. Lunches are served from noon to 1 p.m. Organized activities will be held from 10 a.m. to noon.
• The Spring Valley program runs from June 13 through Aug. 15, Monday through Friday, at Spring Valley City Hall, 215 N. Greenfield St. Lunches are served noon to 1 p.m.