ROCHELLE — For many families, summer is often a time for relaxing, going on vacations and getting outside to enjoy the nice weather. But for some less fortunate families in the Rochelle area, summer can also a time for worrying if kids are eating a nutritional lunch every day. For this reason, the Rochelle Summer Lunch program was started to fill a void.
The annual Rochelle Summer Lunch program will be returning to four locations across town this summer in an effort to help feed the community. The locations include the Shangri La Mobile Home park, Cooper Park, Connolly Park and Powers Park in Hillcrest. The program runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at all of the locations and serves anyone under the age of 18 who shows up and is hungry.
“The great thing about the program is that we don’t have to limit who we serve,” said Betsie Swartz, member of the Rochelle Summer Lunch Program Board. “So, if you show you show up and we can reasonably determine you are under 18, we get to feed you.”
All of the lunches are provided by the Northern Illinois Food Bank and funded by the state at no cost to the school. The only responsibility of the school is to line up all of the volunteers to work the event.
“The only requirement to be a volunteer is that you attend one of the two training sessions,” said Swartz.” “And in fact, if you are volunteering and under the age of 18, we want you to eat too.”
This is the eighth year the event is taking place, with a number of different locations every year, determined by the number of volunteers that sign up. The duties of the volunteers are to interact with the kids, make them feel welcome and hand them pre-packaged lunches. Among feeding the children in need, this program offers other benefits.
“One of my favorite things about this program is that I have gotten to meet really cool people in Rochelle,” said Swartz. “People that I would not have run into otherwise.”
The children attending the program also get much more out of it than satisfying their hunger.
“Sometimes the kids are pretty unsupervised in the summer if the parents are working,” stated Swartz. “So, for them to have that positive interaction with an adult is really important and it kind of gives them some structure to their day.”
Swartz added that is much harder for kids to keep up with eating lunch every day when their parents are at work, and there is no adult to tell them when it is time for lunch. Separate from the children’s parents not being home, there are also hunger issues in the community.
“For a community that has industries that are so focused on food, we still have lots of hungry people,” expressed Swartz. “The citizens are the real driving force behind the Rochelle Summer Lunch Program. The lunches are packed and provided at no cost, but without the community all pitching in and volunteering, none of this would be possible.”
The two training days are offered on Wednesday, May 22nd, at the Rochelle United Methodist Church and Tuesday, May 28th, at Lincoln Elementary School. For questions or to sign up to volunteer, E-Mail [email protected]
“It makes me really proud of my community,” exclaimed Swartz. “To have so many people say, I’m not going to get anything out of this and I’m willing to promise that I am going to show up and do this thing for these kids that I don’t know, I think that’s a really cool thing.”