The Heart of Summer Meals

C1Corazón is the Spanish word for “heart,” and Corazón Community Services team members have huge hearts for the youth they serve meals to through the Summer Meals program. Corazón operates Fuerza Youth Center in Cicero, IL, and has participated in the Summer Meals program since 2007. For many kids, Fuerza is a second home. “The kids know that if they need anything, they can come to us,” said Ishmael “Izzy” Vargas Jr., Director of Youth Services.

Without the Summer Meals program, it would be impossible for Fuerza to provide food for their youth. “We have kids that we know are struggling and don’t have much to eat, so it’s a big help for us,” said Vargas. Fuerza serves about 55 meals daily.

Vargas attributes the success of the center and the meal program to the local community members who staff Fuerza. “We hire people who live here, and give them an opportunity to serve their own community. It gives us a lot in terms of being able to connect with the youth. And if you are from the community, you have a lot of passion for it and you’ll stay longer.” In fact, Vargas himself is a member of the Cicero community and was first hired by Corazón in 2006 – his freshman year of college. His passion for the community and kids who live there is apparent in his work and the relationships he has built with those they serve.

Two teens enjoying a Summer Meal at Fuerza

Two teens enjoying a Summer Meal at Fuerza

As important as these meals are for the kids at Fuerza, the youth center provides much more than a free meal. Angelo Rivera Sr. – another longtime staff member at the center – said, “We do it all.” Vargas and Rivera want the youth center to be seen as a safe haven. “We do have violence that happens in our community, so we want to keep the kids off the street as much as possible.” Kids know that Fuerza is a safe place for them to come have a meal, play, relax, and have fun with their friends.

One of Fuerza’s primary goals is to teach kids strategies to cope with and reduce stress. “They are overwhelmed at school and at home,” said Rivera. He teaches the kids meditation and martial arts at the center, and dance instructors come in occasionally as well.


Fuerza motivates kids to work hard in school and continue their education. The staff works to help teens prep for college by taking them on college visits, helping them register for SAT/ACT testing, helping them fill out applications, and even working with them to find scholarships and tuition help.

Ishmael "Izzy" Vargas Jr., (left) and Angelo Rivera Sr. (right)

Ishmael “Izzy” Vargas Jr., (left) and Angelo Rivera Sr. (right)

They also instill a giving and appreciative spirit in their youth. Vargas takes them out each Christmas Eve to deliver blankets and other supplies to the homeless. “It’s really pushed them to be appreciative of what they have,” said Vargas, adding that many of the kids have felt very moved by the need in the community.

According to Vargas, the fact that Fuerza is able to provide meals through the Summer Meals program is what enables the rest of the work that they do. The meals draw kids to the center, and it also helps the youth center stand out to parents.

To learn more about Corazón Community Services and the Fuerza Youth Center, check out their website.

Extending the Reach of Summer Meals

The New Bethel M.B. Church in East St. Louis is a sponsor of the Summer Meals Program and has five sites under its sponsorship. Serving Summer Meals since 2000, “it’s our sustainability that I am most proud of, that we have been able to maintain in all these years. I didn’t see that at the time when we started the program,” said Donna Samuels, Program Coordinator. When New Bethel started the program, there weren’t many others that were providing Summer Meals.

“They [kids] function better after they have eaten.”

Now that schools in the area have followed New Bethel’s suite and are participating in the Summer Meals Program, Samuels saw an opportunity to branch out to other areas of the city in order to reach more kids. “Some kids don’t have access to food during the summer and get left out especially in the rural areas where they don’t have many options to go to for food.” Samuels applied for and received a Summer Meals Program grant through Rise & Shine/No Kid Hungry to expand access to and participation in the Summer Meals Program.

Kids being served a Summer Meal at New Bethel M.B. Church

Kids being served a Summer Meal at New Bethel M.B. Church

“We brought a school bus. We have housing projects so we are going to go around and pick kids up and bring them to the church for the Summer Meals Program,” said Samuels. The bus will make two stops in the morning for breakfast and two in the afternoon for lunch. After the kids have had their meal and some time to participate in an activity they will board the bus to be dropped back off. New Bethel currently serves 40-45 kids daily but with the bus anticipate 65-70 kids or more to be served daily. After advertising the bus pick-ups Samuels hopes to start the mobile response mid-July.

Samuels sees how hunger affects kids, “if kids are hungry they can’t do a lot of different things because their mind is on food. They function better after they have eaten.”

Samuels expressed that parents in the community have come to rely on the Summer Meals Program. “Parents work and they depend on us to feed their kids.”

New Bethel’s Summer Meals Program will run until August 10th. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and lunch is served from noon until 1:30 p.m. New Bethel makes all their meals at the church and ships them out to their sites. Most meals are served hot.

Keeping Up with the City of Evanston’s Summer Meals Program

No Kid Leaves Hungry, a feature story on the City of Evanston’s Summer Meals Program appeared in the 2017 July edition of the Rise & Shine newsletter. Since then, Evanston’s Kenneth Cherry is back at serving the community through the Summer Meals Program. Serving over 200 kids daily, the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center continues to be a model of success for the Summer Meals Program. The City of Evanston sponsors eight different meal sites throughout the city.

“Anyone can come get a meal and have fun.”


The Summer Meals Program at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center

The Summer Meals Program at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center

Kids enjoying lunch at Fleetwood

Kids enjoying lunch at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center

Cherry himself has been involved with the city’s work for 22 years, and is very pleased with how the Summer Meals Program has grown there. Cherry attributes this success to one key ingredient – making people feel comfortable. “You’ve got to make the kids feel comfortable,” he says, “I don’t want this to feel like a program for kids in poverty. Anybody can come get a meal and have fun.” It’s clear that this is what makes the program unique and special. Kids can be seen all over the building and its grounds, running, playing, and laughing. Cherry’s face lights up as he sees kids at the center doing relay races in the gym, playing basketball outside, and enjoying their lunches. Kids at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center are getting a lot more than a free meal.

Kenneth Cherry

Kenneth Cherry

The center has a lot of regulars, including a local grandmother who watches a group of kids from her neighborhood, and brings the whole crew for breakfast and lunch every day. “The feedback is always positive and appreciative,” says Cherry. There are a lot of community members that depend on the center for a healthy meal. Not only is the site open to community members, but various local summer camps bring their kids by every day. “Their favorite day is pizza day,” says Cherry, but he is often surprised at the healthy foods the kids are willing to try and actually like. Hummus and salads were among the foods he sees kids enjoying.

The Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center makes it their mission to serve up healthy meals, a side of fun, and a good dose of love for the community they serve. Cherry and his staff are set up for another summer of free meals for kids 18 and under.

The Fleetwood-Jourdain Center will be open each weekday through August 17th, serving breakfast from 7:00am – 9:00am and lunch from 11:00am-1:00pm.

For information about the City of Evanston’s Summer Meals Program visit the City’s website.

Congratulations 2018 Summer Meal Program Grant Recipients!!!!

Rise & Shine Illinois in partnership with No Kid Hungry provided grants to help organizations expand access to and participation in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supported and Illinois State Board of Education administered Summer Meal programs.

The following Sponsors were awarded mini-grants up to $5,000 to help with equipment, transportation, and other non-food program expenses:

 Archdiocese of Chicago
Boys & Girls Club of Elgin
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago
Clay County Health Department, Flora 
Douglas County Health Department, Tuscola
First Free Will Baptist Church, Johnston City
High Jump, Chicago
Lincoln Elementary School District 27, Lincoln 
New Bethel M. B. Church, East Saint Louis
River Bend Foodbank, Davenport

The following Sponsors were awarded capacity building grants up to $10,000 to expand and enhance their program:

Chicago PSD-Network OII, Chicago
Harrisburg Community Unit School District 3, Harrisburg
Northern Illinois Food Bank, Geneva



Valley View’s Summer Food Truck


Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook is one of six total stops on Valley View School District 365U summer mobile meal route. Valley View’s summer mobile meals started in 2017, serving Bolingbrook and Romeoville. The mobile routes: 3 in Bolingbrook and 3 in Romeoville serves anywhere between 400-800 meals a day.

It was a natural partnership between the library and the school district as the library does activities and programming to support kid’s education and development. “You come to the library for lunch to nourish your body and stay at the library to nourish your mind,” said Paul Mills Executive Director of Fountaindale Public Library. During lunchtime the children’s department of the library puts a table out that has a craft, puzzle, or small activity kids can do.

Based on the number of meals the school district served its first year Meghan Gibbons, Director of Nutrition Services for Valley View said it was a sign that the Summer Meals Program was needed in the community. “Between our summer mobile meals and our schools that were serving meals we ended up serving over 40,000 meals last summer.”


Valley View offers 2 choices of an entrée. The Cheese Pizza Anytimer is offered Monday through Friday along with another option. On this day a submarine sandwich was the other option.

Valley View School District prepares all of the meals out of Bolingbrook High School. Meals are shipped from the high school to sites in thermal hot/cold packs.

At Fountaindale Library the Valley View school bus loaded with thermal packs arrive a few minutes before their start time of 12:20 p.m. to set up. As kids line up they are handed bags to put their lunch in and go down the line selecting an entrée, fruit or vegetable, milk, and dessert.

Kids eat outside sitting on benches in front of the library, in the shade under trees, or inside the air conditioned building where tables and chairs are set up.

Parent Margaret Mbuthia and her daughter Sara

Parent Margaret Mbuthia and her daughter Sara

Parent Heather Lee and her daughter Sienna

Parent Heather Lee and her daughter Sienna

Margaret Mbuthia brings her daughter, Sara to the Fountaindale Summer Meals site. Mbuithia sees the Summer Meals program as something that is good for the community. “The program fulfills a need. It’s something kids can look forward to in the summer and one less meal I have to worry about.” Mbuthia’s daughter really likes the meals. “She goes home and tells her brother who is in summer camp about the meals and he asks, ‘can I get one?’ so I have to tell him that you have to be there to get a meal and that he can come and get one the days he isn’t in camp.”

“We continue to serve meals almost all year long at this point because that need is always there, it doesn’t go away just because you take a summer break. Our kids rely on it,” said Gibbons.

Lunch line outside of the Fountaindale Library

Lunch line outside of the Fountaindale Public  Library Summer Meals site


A patron of the Summer Meals site selecting sweet peppers and broccoli to go along with his submarine sandwich

Gibbon’s takes the kid’s favorite foods and makes them healthy. “I’m a mom too, I just don’t want my kid to have pizza but if it’s on a whole grain crust, there are vegetables in the sauce, it’s low sodium, and low fat then I can justify that pizza. We try to do this with all our meals,” Gibbon’s said. The Slushie Cup is 100% fruit juice, chocolate chip cookies are whole grain, the Doritos are whole grain, reduced fat, and the hot dogs are all natural beef on a whole grain bun.

Heather Lee likes the healthy options the meals provide her daughter Sienna who loves the bread on the Cheese Pizza Anytimer. “She gets to make the pizza herself and it’s similar to the Lunchables she eats sometimes for lunch at school,” said Lee.

“We have the advantage of knowing what our kids like because they are our kids,” said Gibbons.

The Valley View Summer Mobile Meal program will run until August 10th. For more information on the school district’s mobile sites visit Valley Views’s website. For information on Fountaindale Public Library visit

2018 Summer Meal Grant Application Open



The Summer Meals Program grants cycle has opened! Grants will help organizations expand access to and participation in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supported summer meal programs. To learn more about the Summer Food Service Program visit the USDA’s website.


  • Mini-grants up to $5,000 are to be used for equipment, personnel, transportation, and other non-food program expenses. New and returning sponsors are eligible to apply for this grant. Mini-Grant Application Deadline is April 13, 2018.

For more information and to apply for a grant, visit Summer Meals Grant.

Filling the Gap with Summer Meals

Marcus “Marco” Halsey offers the youth of North Lawndale “a hug and an opportunity” with Summer Meals.

Halsey is the CEO and Founder of Generating Adolescent Productivity (G.A.P.), a Benevolence Foundation located in the B.T. Little Center in Chicago’s North Lawndale community.

“As a Benevolence Foundation, we are about giving back to the community,” said Halsey.

Marcus "Marco" Halsey

Marcus “Marco” Halsey

The G.A.P. Foundation started out as a concept of Halsey’s.

Growing up in North Lawndale, Halsey became aware of how under-served the area is and that there are a lot of under-privileged youth that reside there.

“I participated in a lot of things that I didn’t have to. Instead of my environment becoming a part of me; I became a part of my environment,” said Halsey.

Halsey calls this period of his life “non-productive”.

“You have a lot of young people in this community and in many other communities around the country that become a part of the negative things that they see, instead of being productive people,” said Halsey.

Halsey’s concept materialized on December 8, 2015 with the creation of the G.A.P. Foundation. G.A.P. shows youth that there are better ways to do things.

“I explain it to them, I did this and I did it the wrong way, now I get it – You don’t have to take that path,” said Halsey.

G.A.P. is not funded by grants. It is a registered not-for-profit 501(c)(3), organization sustained by donations and community support. Volunteers help Halsey run the Foundation.

“None of our volunteers get paid. It is a blessing to have people consistently willing to volunteer because our youth need consistency,” said Halsey.

An FSP breakfast at G.A.P.

An FSP breakfast at G.A.P.

In its first year, the Foundation served meals to kids in the summer on a tight budget that was strictly out of pocket. This is the first year the Foundation is utilizing the Summer Meals Program as a Summer Meals site under Food Service Professionals (FSP).

FSP is under the Archdioceses umbrella, which has over 200 Summer Meals sites this year. FSP orders prepared meals from a vendor. The vendor delivers meals to sites daily. FSP provides training in food handling, meal count sheets, posters, and anything else the site may need. During the summer, FSP provides cold meals consisting of vegetables, fruits, and real fruit juice to its sites.

“The kids really enjoy the meals and the meals are always healthy. Just the other day they went crazy over the turkey and swiss on a croissant,” said Halsey.

The G.A.P. Foundation is open in the Summer, Monday through Friday from 9AM-2PM. Through the Summer Meals Program G.A.P. serves free breakfast and lunch to kids 18 and under. On Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday breakfast is served from 9:30AM-10:30AM. On Tuesday Breakfast is served from 9:00AM – 10:00AM. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday lunch is served from 12:30PM – 1:30PM. On Wednesday lunch is served from 1:30PM – 2:30PM.

Lunch at G.A.P.

Lunch at G.A.P.

Along with Summer Meals, Halsey provides an outlet for kids to experience life outside of North Lawndale. Through the Foundation’s Safe Summer Program, Halsey fills a bus with kids to go on a field trip once a week.

“We do field trips because a lot these young people don’t get out of North Lawndale, so they don’t get a chance to see anything different. We are showing them better than we can tell them,” expressed Halsey.

Halsey has taken kids to Guaranteed Rate Field, peace rallies, picnic’s in the park, the Brookfield Zoo and has an Apple trip planned where kids will learn about iMovie’s and Garage Band.

During the school year G.A.P. is open two days a week with their After-School Meals program. Dinner is served. Youth get homework help and engage in a variety of programs designed to effect positive change in their lives. G.A.P. programs teach youth about being productive citizens through leadership, sound decision making, job skills, and communication skills. Halsey often invites guest speakers to come and share their life experiences.

“I have speakers come in that have been through something. There are so many different stories our youth can hear to help them make better decisions when they run into a situation.”

Halsey with G.A.P. youth

Halsey with G.A.P. youth

In helping youth see a better way through his Foundation Halsey chooses not to focus on the challenges he faces in his work but sees the opportunity.

“I don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything is plus 1 and that’s the only way the math adds up to me,” explained Halsey.

When asked what the key is to G.A.P.’s success Halsey responded, “Love. I couldn’t do any of this without our volunteers, reaching out giving our kids a hug and an opportunity.”

To learn more about the G.A.P Foundation or  to make a donation visit their Facebook or Go Fund Me  page.

No Kid Leaves Hungry

The Summer Meals Kenneth Cherry is able to offer kids at sites in Evanston are a far cry from the “choke sandwiches” he remembers eating as a kid.

The City of Evanston operates seven Summer Meals sites (Fleetwood – Jourdain Center, James Park, Kingsley School, Mason Park, McGraw YMCA, Oakton School, and the Robert Crown Center). Cherry has been with the city for 21 years and is the Recreation Manager of the Fleetwood – Jourdain Center.

Nestled in the heart of a residential street, the heart of the Fleetwood – Jourdain Center resides within its walls, its history, its staff and volunteers, and the community it serves.

Fleetwood - Jourdain Center

Fleetwood – Jourdain Center

The Fleetwood – Jourdain Center is the oldest community  center in Evanston opening in 1956. The center gets its  name from the city’s first black Alderman Edwin B.  Jourdain and community activist Homer Fleetwood.

“Mr. Fleetwood was famous for selling bologna sandwiches  and serving out of the building,” said Cherry.

Cherry credits Mamie Smith, Betsey Jenkins, and a couple of community organizations for working to make Evanston one of the first municipalities to access the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), known as the Summer Meals Program, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide free meals to kids during the summer months.

“They worked very hard to make sure we could serve Summer Meals out of the Fleetwood –Jourdain Center.”

Jenkins who once held Cherry’s position but has since retired comes back to Fleetwood in the summer to help run the Summer Meals Program.

Evanston Township High School is the vendor for Evanston’s Summer Meals Program. The high school prepares the meals for the sites. Through the partnership with the high school Cherry is proud to offer healthy meals that kids enjoy.

Southwest chicken salads, chicken sandwiches, and a hummus dish are all on the menu and served at the City’s Summer Meals sites.

“I was shocked to learn that the kids really like hummus,” exclaimed Cherry.

Growing up in Chicago, Cherry isn’t accustomed to the type of Summer Meals he serves today. Cherry’s father served Summer Meals in his church. Remembering the sandwiches Cherry laughed, “We called them choke sandwiches because they were dry.”

“I’m very pleased with the high school,” said Cherry.

IMG_0872 (2)

Lunch at Fleetwood

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Pictured: Servers Donna Dial & Gwen Davis


The Fleetwood – Jourdain Center serves breakfast and lunch to all kids age 18 and under. Breakfast is from 7AM-9AM. Fleetwood has a playtime during breakfast instead of an activity.

“We tried an activity the first week, but I don’t know why nobody wants to color or make houses out of Popsicle sticks at 7:30AM,” Cherry joked.

Lunch is served from 11AM – 1PM. Though there is usually no formal organized activity during lunch at Fleetwood the library comes in two days a week to do arts and crafts with the kids.

“Our numbers are vast at Fleetwood. It’s hard to develop an activity that can be inclusive for 100 plus kids during a lunchtime hour and half,” said Cherry.

Pictured: Lisa King & Kenneth Cherry

Pictured: Lisa King & Kenneth Cherry

Jeron Dorsey and Lisa King help Cherry carry out the goal  of the program which is to ensure “no kid leaves hungry…,”  said Cherry.

When asked what Dorsey’s title was Cherry replied with a  smile, “makes sure the magic happens when it needs to  happen.”

Dorsey coordinates meal pick-up and deliveries to the seven  Summer Meals sites.

“The biggest thing is getting your numbers down. We try to provide enough food per day but limit waste while doing it. We don’t want to get too many meals or too few meals. We want to make sure we can feed everybody.” Dorsey orders about 500 breakfasts and over 1,000 lunches per day.

King is the Site Supervisor at Fleetwood and has a passion for the work she does. “I am like the grandmother of food. I enjoy making sure everybody is fed.”

Fleetwood - Jourdain Team Fleetwood has a youth development program. High school kids work during the summer earning wages helping with the set up and cleaning up of meal service.

Fleetwood – Jourdain Team
Fleetwood has a youth development program. High school kids work during the summer earning wages helping with the set up and cleaning up of meal service.

“This is one of those programs that can’t go away. So many people count on and look for this food service during the summer.” The Summer Meals Program “helps lower-income families who struggle just to keep good meals on the table for their children. With us providing two good meals a day, it takes the pressure off parents in terms of their overall budgets,” expressed Cherry.

When asked what his ingredient for success is Cherry replied, “Love for the community. You have to love the community you serve.”


Pictures featured throughout this story were taken by No Kid Hungry, IL Summer Youth Ambassador Shamira Quiñones.

2017 Summer Meals Kickoff Event

Join the Chicago Summer Food Working Group for their annual Chicago Summer Meals Kick-off Event, on Friday June 23rd from 10 AM – 2 PM at Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60618. There will be lots of fun games, activities, and performances for kids and their families. Performances and activities include JWT (Jesse White Tumblers), Rainbow Fish book readings by Author, Marcus Pfister, and soccer with members of the UIC Flames.

SummerMeals Postcard2


The Summer Meals kick-off event promotes and brings awareness to the Summer Meals Program. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); also known as the Summer Meals Program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). The program provides nutritious meals to kids, age 18 and younger during the summer months ensuring children’s bodies and minds are healthy, strong and ready for the next school year.

Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for kids and the most expensive time for parents as kids no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). To help close this gap, the Summer Meals Program serves meals to kids during the summer months.

Kickoff the Summer Meals Program Friday, June 23rd at 10 AM in Horner Park!

#ChiSummerMealsKickoff17 on Twitter & Facebook.

Summer Meals rock in Rock Island

Thirteen years ago, staff at Church of Peace in Rock Island began working on the Summer Meals Program with just one site. This year there are 29 sites and they are still growing.

Children enjoying lunch at one of Church of Peace's 29 Summer Meals sites.

Children enjoying lunch at one of Church of Peace’s 29 Summer Meals sites.

1 in 5 children in Rock Island is at risk of hunger. Nora Steele, Summer Meals Program Sponsor, knows that reality perhaps better than anyone. “The elementary school 2 blocks from the church has 98.9% free and reduced-priced meal eligibility. All the schools in the city of Rock Island are over 50% eligibility.” In many households, healthy options are limited, or parents are at work during the day. “I work a 12 hour day” says one mother, “and do not allow my children out by themselves. With [Church of Peace] picking them up and bussing them to the site, I was able to relax knowing they would have meals they enjoyed and were good for them.” The summer meals program offers breakfast and lunch at many of their sites and also has some supper programs. The program serves approximately 1,600 children per day, or 34 percent of the city’s eligible children, which is well over the state’s participation rate of 14 percent. According to Carlos Jiminez, site manager at the Martin Luther King Center, “Some of these kids will not eat a hot meal throughout the whole day. It is important for us to serve breakfast and lunch and to have healthy options.”

The community garden at Shiela Solomon's Summer Meals site thrives with the help of neighborhood kids who come to each lunch at the site everyday.

The community garden at Shiela Solomon’s Summer Meals site thrives with the help she receives from neighborhood children during lunchtime.

But, it’s not just about distributing meals. Sheila Solomon leads the Community Garden project in Rock Island and has provided two plots for children participating in Summer Meals Programs to plant and grow their own vegetables. This gives children more motivation to try new vegetables that show up in their lunches when they have seen them growing right at their lunch site. “The kids are excited every day – they come early to help set up and then they garden and eat.” Church of Peace’s Summer Meals Program serves a critical need in Rock Island, and they plan to expand, continuing to fulfill their mission of ending childhood hunger in their community.

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