Last summer, 2017, was the pilot year for a program called Lebanon Lunch Friends. Lebanon Lunch Friends provided free lunches to kids in three housing sites 5 days a week (Monday-Friday) for ten weeks, from June 18 to August 25th, starting right after school ended in June, and going until the end of August, just before school started again.
Lebanon Lunch Friends originally began as a smaller concept, first discussed in the winter of 2017 by members of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley. After hearing about successful summer lunch programs operated in a number of nearby towns, a small group of Lebanon community stakeholders met at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital to plan what Nancy DuMont, Alice Peck Day Community Health Director, envisioned as a “three-week pilot.”
The idea soon took on a life of its own. In conjunction with Barbara Farnsworth of the Hartford Community Coalition, and the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, Alice Ely, director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, and Shelby Hawks, the Program Coordinator for the Hartford Community Coalition’s program, Take a Bite Out of Hunger, the Lebanon Lunch Friends began.
Over the course of the summer of 2017, the Lebanon Lunch Friends delivered 6700 lunches to the three Lebanon and West Lebanon locations, The Villages at Crafts Hill, Rivermere, and Romano Circle. Twenty-three volunteers from Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital logged 460 hours preparing and assembling bag lunches. Other community-based volunteers helped hold game days, craft times, and best of all, story time with free books donated by LISTEN Community Services.
The week in which the Lebanon Lunch Friends went to give away books, Nancy thought she was prepared with plenty, but she got a call that all the books were gone after the first day! Nancy called Kyle Fischer, Executive Director of the LISTEN Center, in a panic who told her to head down to the Lebanon LISTEN Store and take as many books as she needed, at no cost. Nancy noted how that one moment created a beautiful community feeling. The kids required books, and there they were.
For the third year in a row, Springfield Auto supplied a van for the Take a Bite Out of Hunger to use in the summer food program. Chico Eastridge, the driver, was known for hopping out occasionally and playing his guitar for the kids, too.
The lunches last year were made in conjunction with the Hartford Community Coalition’s Take a Bite Out of Hunger program at the Hartford Memorial Middle School, as Hartford also has a free lunch program. This year, the Lebanon Lunch Friends will continue to partner with the Hartford Community Coalition as well as the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley to make the lunches, but the site has moved. Meals will now be prepared at the White River School, located just behind the CO-OP.
The food for the meals is made possible through both purchasing food and donations from Willing Hands. The program relies on locals to help to make it happen. Supporters of the program in both 2017 and 2018 include Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Community Health, Lebanon Housing Authority, LISTEN Community Services, Hypertherm HOPE Foundation, Twin Pines Housing Trust, the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, as well as an anonymous donor.
The Lebanon Lunch Friends has a few grant applications from which they are waiting to hear back, but this year they are expanding to include two more sites, so additional funding is still needed. The two new Lebanon sites are Spencer Square and the Lebanon Middle School where the Friends will provide meals for the Lebanon summer school program in July.
Another prospective program that the Lunch Friends are considering is getting meals to families who don’t get home until the end of the day. It requires more volunteers and staffing, as well as finding a central area to keep food cool. However, many families don’t get home until 4:30 or 5 pm and they struggle to get full meals on the table for their children. This new program could prove to be equally as important to family health and nutrition.
The Lebanon Lunch Friends program differs a little bit from the USDA free summer lunch program. The USDA will only provide food to approved sites and, while the federal funding may add to the bottom line, the restrictions on where, when, and how children can receive free lunches can make it hard to develop these programs. The food and nutrition guidelines are generally the same between the two.
But, if the program were a USDA one rather than the Lebanon Lunch Friends, they would also miss out on the ability to help other community members. Nancy told a lovely story of walking around Romano Circle with an extra meal. She would offer it to the adults she saw because all the kids were fed. And the adults, even the ones who likely needed it, would often turn it down, saying, “no, those are for the kids.” There were a few occasions where Nancy had to convince people to take the meals as they wouldn’t last!
If the 2017 summer Lebanon Lunch Friends pilot program is any indication of future success, it’s not hard to imagine that the 2018 summer program will be anything but a big hit. Of course, the program can’t run without the community’s help. If you want to volunteer, contact Peggy Cooper, Alice Peck Day Volunteer Coordinator, at (603) 448-7456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.