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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.