Local churches serve up 7,153 free meals this summer
BY TINA L. SCOTT
For more than 10 years now, the Free Summer Lunch for Kids and Teens program has been serving up free lunches to children and teens in the Merrill community during the summer months when school is not in session and, as such, free- and reduced-price lunches are not available for area students from low-income families. To help address food insecurity in area households for the summer, especially as it relates to children, in 2013 Christ United Methodist Church launched the program to provide a free midday meal for kids during the summer.
In 2014 the program expanded to include volunteers from four other area churches: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, St. Stephens United Church of Christ, Trinity Lutheran Church, and St. John Lutheran Church. Together, they began providing a free midday meal each weekday during June, July, and August.
The program operates for 12 weeks each summer, and the 2023 program concluded on Aug. 25.
The program has had to adapt to changes over the years. “Most notably, since COVID-19 happened more than three years ago, the meals became brown bag lunches that could be picked up and taken home for the children to eat,” program organizers said.
And as the program grew, additional community organizations stepped up to help meet the growing need. In recent years, and again in 2023, the Merrill Community Food Pantry partnered with the program to provide some staple items for the lunches such as the juice, the snack item, and fruit. “Without the help that the Merrill Community Food Pantry provides, the churches would find it very difficult to continue to provide complete meals to the children and teens,” a program representative said.
This year the program also received a very generous donation from Habitat for Humanity, she said. And the Merrill Lions Club and Merrill United Way also provided financial donations, and the T.B. Scott Free Library partnered with the program this year, giving free books to youth when they stopped to pick up their meal.
The success of the Free Summer Lunch for Kids and Teens truly is due to the efforts and contributions of many, including all of the volunteers from the churches and the community partners and area businesses and donors, and organizers “would like to extend a very big Thank You to all who were involved in making this program a huge success this summer,” they said. “We look forward to being able to serve the needs of the local kids again next summer.”
In 2022, the program served 4,875 bag lunches to the community’s youth, more than any year prior. Then this past summer in 2023, they set a new record: “The same five churches served 7,153 meals!”