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.

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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.

What is SFSP?

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What is the Summer Meals Program? You may be thinking: “Free Meals? No way!” Yes way. SFSP stands for Summer Food Service Program, 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) to provide free meals over the summer to kids 18 and under. A community is eligible for an SFSP site if 50% or more of the children residing in that area are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. At meal sites, children can receive a healthy meal in a safe place to eat and build friendships. Many sites also offer educational activities and games. This equals Food, Friends, and Fun!

There are open sites and closed sites for free meals. Open sites are meal sites where anyone age 18 and under can get a free meal. There is no fee, no sign-up, and no proof of identity or legal status required. You just walk in and grab a meal! Closed sites are meal sites that require sign-up and sometimes require a small fee to participate throughout the summer. These can include summer camps or other programming that you have to register for.

Why do we need the Summer Meals Program? Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for kids and the most expensive time for parents. Kids and parents who rely on free or reduced – price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) no longer have access to these meals when school is out for the summer.

The Summer Meals Program is severely underutilized. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) for every 100 children who eat a meal in NSLP, only 12 receive a meal during the summer months in Illinois. To help close this gap, the Summer Meals Program serves meals to kids when school is out helping families make their food budgets work in the summer.

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How does the Summer Meals Program work? It seems too good to be true- where does the money for Free Summer Meals come from? The USDA funds the Free Summer Meals program. Sponsors are chosen by ISBE. Sponsors figure out a food service to supply the meals, fill out reimbursement forms, pay for the food up front, and choose sites (specific places where kids can go to get meals). These sites provide the food to kids, set up activities, and keep track of how many kids come every day. Sites are strategically located to help serve the greatest number of kids and the areas that need summer food the most!

Sites record how many meals were served per day. That information is then sent to the sponsor, who fills out reimbursement forms. Reimbursement forms are then sent to the USDA through ISBE. Sponsors recieve a check from the USDA for all the meals they served.

 

To find a site near you, CALL (800) 359-2163, or TEXT FOODIL to 877877.

Keep up-to-date on success stories and other Summer Meals information by following us on facebook: SummerMealsIllinois or twitter: @SummerMealsIL.

 

We hope to see you at a Summer Meals site this summer!

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.

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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.

How does SFSP work?

It seems too good to be true- where does the money for Free Summer Meals come from? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds the Free Summer Meals program. The program was created in 1968 to help feed children over the summer.

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Food for Thought

Summer is a difficult time for hungry children in our community. When school is out, children enrolled in the free or reduced price meal program lose two meals per day. This need is significant, but many organizations respond with programs and partnerships that distribute nutritious food and increase awareness of summer feeding programs.

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Parents go door-to-door to raise awareness for summer programs

One of the main roadblocks to feeding hungry children during the summer is awareness, as families in need often don’t know about the programs available to them. To address this issue, the Food Depository partners with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a group centered on family-focused community organizing.

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Community Atmosphere in Riverton

Riverton is a community where a retiree loads up to six children in her car to get them to the nearest free meal. It’s a community where the police department delivers food for kids every summer day. A community where a preschool teacher has taken it upon herself to start a meal program. And Riverton is a community where 80 to 90 children now receive nutritious meals and activities daily.

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