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.
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.”
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.