CUMBERLAND — A program that fed more than 600 area children nearly 20,000 meals last summer is gearing up for its 13th year.
The Summer Lunch Box is an ecumenical endeavor of four local churches and there is no charge for the meals, said Becky Millar, the coordinator of the program.
“If we don’t feed a child’s body, we aren’t feeding a child’s brain,” said Millar, a retired educator. The program uses no government funding and is supported entirely by private donations as well as donations from the churches involved. There are no paid positions in the organization. Children must be registered by a parent or guardian for the program. Registration can take place at any of the distribution sites Monday, the first day of the program, from noon to 1 p.m.
Volunteers remain needed for this summer’s program, Millar said, and donations are always welcome. “It’s a huge operation,” Millar said.
“I need volunteers at the churches, drivers and at the delivery sites,” Millar said. The distribution sites this year are the John Humbird School playground, Springdale Park, Fort Cumberland Homes, Friendship Haven Church parking lot, Melvin Methodist Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Virginia Avenue Post Office parking lot and the Metropolitan AME Church.
“It takes a lot of money to feed 600 kids for 40 days,” Millar said. The program runs for eight weeks. Many donors choose anonymity. Millar said she is willing to discuss the program with any individual or organization. A number of local business people make donations to the program, Millar said.
The program keeps growing, which adds to the need for donations. It started from small beginnings. Millar, a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Parish, one of the four churches involved in the program, was at a vestry conference and heard a speaker talk about the church’s role in the community.
“My dream would be to feed children who were underprivileged and playing on city playgrounds,” Millar said. And that’s where the program started, at the playgrounds on Centre Street and Pine Avenue, with 40 lunches, 20 at each playground. Emmanuel began as the first church involved and was joined a few years later by Our Lady of the Mountains (then SS. Peter and Paul’s) and then First Presbyterian and Centre Street United Methodist. Millar said she was delighted as more churches joined the program.
The need in the area is great, Millar said, with more than 50 percent of the children in the county receiving free or subsidized meals in school. The children fall through the cracks in the summer, she said.
The program and Millar were recognized by state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who gave them the first 2013 Allegany County Golden Apple award for helping school children. Millar said the state recognition for the program was important.
The lunches are usually a sandwich with meat, fruit, vegetable, dessert, 100 percent juice drink and a salty snack.
There is no proselytizing, and no attempt to exploit the children. “There are no pictures of the children in the paper,” Millar said.
An independent program has now developed in Frostburg and one is beginning in Westernport.
Contact Matthew Bieniek at firstname.lastname@example.org.