Over 10 years ago Flat River Outreach Ministries (FROM) launched its Lunch Buddies program. Times when school is not in session families are able to receive free lunch for kids 3-18 living in the Lowell Area Schools District.
In the Beginning
When Lunch Buddies first started families were given a box of food to use during the summer. In 2012 Karen Pedley took over the summer program. She was charged with making food options a more complete meal. In 2014 spring and winter break programs were added. The Lunch Buddies program got its current name in 2015 after kids made suggestions on what it should be called. Pedley says, “In that same year we also moved to our new place, still at FROM but in our own area. We also made the necessary changes to provide the Lunch Buddies to be a self select program.” This means kids are able to choose their lunch from a selection of 10 items.
Once selections are made for the week kids are given a shopping cart to gather items which make up their menu choices. Chef salads, chicken salad roll-ups, and chicken and cheese quesadillas are among the meals kids can select. Additionally fresh fruit and vegetables are also provided. Baby carrots, broccoli, salad mix, apple, bananas, grapes, and strawberries are just a few of the choices which complete a healthy lunch.
Pedley feels financial help for the program is most beneficial so the changing need for items can be met. But those looking to pick something up to donate while out grocery shopping could drop off 5 oz cans of chicken or tuna, canned fruit with no sugar added, or unsweetened single serve applesauce containers.
Helping the Community
This program is able to assist families who use the free or reduced lunch program during the school year by not taxing an already tight budget with the need to purchase more food for students when they’re on a break from school. Last summer 133 families assisted and a total of 144 kids were provided with free lunch. The total number of meals provided was 11,000!
In recent years education about having a healthy body and not just a healthy meal has been added to the program. Last year’s focus on Keeping Our Bodies Moving. Kids were encouraged to be on the move for 60 minutes a day and were given a chart to keep track of progress.
This year’s theme is “Open a Book…Grow a Healthy Mind”. Extra activities will be available during the open Lunch Buddies food pick up time. Book Buddies was the name selected by kids for their library, which will invite kids to come and read. They can take a book home to keep or bring it back for someone else to read during another event.
Activities in a Did U Know? room will also inspire healthy living. Kids will learn how to prepare different foods and even sample some things. The hope is to allow kids to try something potentially new in a fun environment. Kids will also learn how aged but not rotten produce can still be used.
Parents will also have the opportunity to engage in activities. With a cup of coffee, tea, or water adults can chat together. Having conversations with other parents will often make individual life challenges feel not so lonely. And who knows, some new friendships may be formed. “As you can see we are more than just a place to get food.” reminds Karen Pedley of Lunch Buddies.
The When and the Where
This year’s spring break Lunch Buddies program will take place on Tuesday, April 4 from 1-7 at FROM. There is no need to register in order to participate in the program. Kids 3-18 will be able to select five meals each. Don’t forget to plan some time for the kid and parent activities too! Lunch Buddies will return in the summer after the end of the school year.
Photos courtesy of FROM and used with permission.