DeKALB – Kara Gallagher wanted to remove transportation barriers that keep kids from getting lunch in the summer.
So, with the help of the Kishwaukee Hospital RV, she took the YMCA’s summer meal program on the road.
The Mobile Y brings not only lunch to neighborhood kids, but structured activities and games as well.
“So far it’s been great,” said Gallagher, director of strategic health initiatives at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA. “We’re only in the first weeks, but the kids seem to be enjoying it. It’s awesome to play games, get them moving and, of course, feed them.”
About 5,000 children in DeKalb County are at risk of going hungry, according to statistics gathered by Feeding America, a nonprofit social service group.
About 20 to 50 kids show up at any given site during the week for the Mobile Y. Last week, they played parachute games and ate in the park on a nice day.
When it rains, fewer kids show up. But some community organizations look to help, said Heather Eade, director of marketing and communications at the Y.
“In Cortland, the Lions Club opened up their Lions Den,” she said, “which is great because we are creating more partnerships. Most people are open to feeding children and giving them structured activities to keep them healthy.”
The Mobile Y is just one DeKalb County program that seeks to address the issue.
The Northern Illinois Food Bank has had its summer meal program in place since the late 1990s, spokeswoman Donna Lake said.
“It started off small, actually taking sandwiches out in the back of a vehicle, and has grown into a program that serves 8,000 meals per day throughout the summer in 13 different counties,” Lake said.
While the organization also has a number of food banks and soup kitchens, the summer meal program seeks to specifically address the food gap that students face when school lets out.
Sixty-six percent of the city’s food-insecure children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, so it can become a serious issue for those kids when school lunch isn’t an option, Lake said.
In DeKalb District 428, about 60 percent of students receive free or reduced-lunch during the school semester. DeKalb High School is one site for the Northern Illinois Food Bank summer lunches.
“It’s a really tough time for parents,” Lake said. “Summer is quite the challenge.”
The Northern Illinois Food Bank program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer food service program.
The Kishwaukee Family YMCA program sought to keep things local. Kishwaukee Hospital allowed use of the vehicle, Wal-Mart gave a grant and the Voluntary Action Center provides the meals, Eade said.
“We thought this was a great opportunity to get out in the community and reach kids where they are,” Gallagher said. “We’ll evaluate the program at the end of the summer, and whether or not it continues will depend on that and funding. But so far, so good.”
Northern Illinois Food Bank operates site locations throughout DeKalb County where kids under 18 can receive a free meal, including DeKalb High School, 501 Dresser Road, DeKalb; DeKalb First United Methodist Church, 321 Oak St., DeKalb; Fox Valley Family YMCA West Branch, 707 S. Main St., Sandwich; Malta Township library, 203 Adams St., Malta; Sandwich library, 925 S. Main St., Sandwich; and Sycamore library, 103 E. State St., Sycamore. Times vary, but a complete schedule can be found at http://solvehungertoday.org/get-help/where-to-get-food/summer-meal-program.
The Mobile Y schedule varies by day as program volunteers visit parks throughout DeKalb County. A full calendar can be found at http://kishymca.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Summer_Food_Mobile_Site1.pdf.
The parks it visits include Franklin Township Park, at South Street and Third Street, Kirkland; Chamberlain Park, at 400 E. Second St., Genoa; Hallgren Park, 701 Franklin St., DeKalb; Lions Den, 70 S. Llanos St., Cortland; and Welsh Park, 651 Russell Road, DeKalb. The Mobile Y is typically on location from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Programs run through the summer, until school starts in the fall.