ALLENDALE — For ten months out of the year, children who receive free or reduced lunches are sure to get two square meals a day. But when summer break rolls around at the end of May, many parents have to worry about affording those extra meals.
In Allendale, Superintendent Bob Bowser said students who receive free and reduced lunches varies from 50 to 60 percent. In Mount Carmel, Superintendent Tim Buss said the number is near 50 percent.
One Allendale family saw the need that more than half of Wabash County families experience during the summer months — so they decided to do something about it.
Last summer, Melissa Smith and her husband Bobby, began serving daily lunches to kids in their neighborhood. They have four children themselves, Olivia, 10, Michael, 9, Caleb, 5, and Sam, 3, and know how difficult it can be for some families that are living paycheck to paycheck.
"This is something that more than half of our community needs — it's not picking on one specific income bracket," Melissa said. "There's just a lot of need and we recognize that. I think as a community we are saying there is a need and summertime is really tough. During the school year, no one asks any questions, your kids can get free food all they want, but then summertime comes and no one even addresses that you have this burden now on your family."
Some days last year, five kids would stop by for a sandwich, some chips and a granola bar or fruit snacks. Other days, 15 children would show up at the free lunch stop. Purchasing an extra dozen or more meals for each day isn't easy, but they make it work.
"We've done it ourselves a lot, but then we've also had tons of people who would just stop by and drop off things. Neighbors just drop off bags of chips, gummies and granola bars," Melissa said. "I've had several people tell me that if we need something, say something."
Now, they are looking to expand that mission into other areas in Wabash County. While the lunches they serve from their home on Oak Street are for anyone, not many kids have a means to get there, especially if their parents work during the day or do not have vehicles. Some of those kids are reached by area church programs like the Brown Bag Buddies, but there are others that fall through the cracks due to a number of reasons, Melissa said.
Melissa began a YouCaring fundraiser online in hopes to eventually purchase a food trailer that can be transported to multiple areas for lunch. The specific one she is hoping to get comes fully equipped with a sink and other appliances that would be necessary for preparing and serving food for the price of $6,000.
"The hope would be that eventually if we get the trailer, we could find out the best locations to have a stop at and then do a schedule," Melissa said.
She shared the online fundraiser on her personal Facebook page and was then contacted by Tristan Barbre with the Wabash County All Our Kids Network, who also asked to share the crowdfunding page. Area churches, like First Christian and First Baptist, have also expressed excitement about the idea, Melissa said.
"I know that if we get the trailer, the help and the food will come to help it operate," she said. "If this works out, we can put all of our resources in one place."
In the meantime, summer lunches will be served at the Smith's Oak Street home in Allendale from noon to 1 p.m. A sign reading "Open for Lunch" will be hanging in front for kids to recognize the house.
To support the free lunch efforts, donate at www.youcaring.com/melissasmith-833404.