Summer Lunch Program Fuels United Way School Supply Drive

Salvation Army employee Blake Williams, left, and a caseworker, monitor a BCBSND Blue&You volunteer team as they serve hot meals to area children.

On Monday, July 17, some co-workers and I at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota went on a volunteer outing together as part of our company’s Blue&You community immersion program.

Some of us served hot meals to men and women at the Salvation Army in downtown Fargo. Others joined a food crew at McCormick Park and Madison Elementary to help serve hot, nutritious meals to children who wouldn’t otherwise get lunch. I was part of that team.

When we pulled up to the truck at McCormick Park, we were greeted by Salvation Army team members who serve lunch daily, typically to the same kids every day. Some they know by name, others are shy and limit their interactions.

‘A slow day’
“This is a pretty slow day for us,” said Salvation Army employee and Bison footballer Blake Williams. “Usually we see more kids, but it could be the heat.”

Williams, who started working for the Salvation Army in June, said he enjoys interacting with the children and making sure they get second helpings if they want them. He is clearly caring, patient and protective – perfect for the position of nourishing underprivileged populations.

Going back for seconds
I observed one girl around age 8 pick up her pink plastic lunch tray and hand it to the server. Williams filled it up with one small seasoned chicken breast, a scoop of string beans, a whole-wheat bun and a serving of applesauce. Meals are perfectly calibrated to fit federal dietary guidelines.

The girl grabbed a carpeted mat and joined a family of new Americans who were serving a toddler bits of bread and chicken under the shade of a tree.

Three minutes later, the 8-year-old girl walked over and held her empty tray out to Williams.

“Are you done?” he asked. The girl shook her head “no.” A second helping would likely get her through dinner, too. Just in case.

The Salvation Army crew generally begins packing up the food around 11:45 a.m. so they can hit the rush of kids outside Madison in north Fargo.

I asked if they ever feed parents or guardians. Williams replied, “As long as there’s food left, we make sure we give it to anyone who stops by.”

The hungry girl greeted a familiar adult, possibly her mother or grandmother. “Would you like some lunch?” he asked the woman.

Like the young girl, she didn’t say much but replied with a nod.

The two sat down in the shade again. The adult woman took the chicken and beans, then handed the child her helping of applesauce and bread, which she ate with gusto. A third helping.

Just in time and a little too late
The family of new Americans also stepped up just before we packed up. A grandmother who spoke little English took a serving for herself, as did what must have been her adult daughter.

We left everyone well-fed for the afternoon. Williams said there would likely be no other takers. A young girl approached the area with her mother.

They were too late.

The mother took her daughter’s arm and walked over to a nearby play area, possibly wanting to give the impression that they were just there to use the swing set, not out of hunger.

“I should have stopped them,” I thought. But I didn’t.

BCBSND Blue&You volunteers dish up a hot meal for a child at McCormick Park in Fargo.

‘Chicken and beans!’
At Madison, we were greeted by a lanky, rambunctious young girl who seemed to be waiting for us to show up.

“What’s for lunch today?” she asked.

“Chicken and beans!” I replied.

“Ugh, I don’t like chicken,” she said as I scooped up her meal.

Soon greeted by some neighborhood friends, they all gathered at a bench and ate their chicken breasts (even the girl who said she doesn’t like chicken) and ignored their beans.

Serving picked up around noon. A teen boy. A preteen with two younger siblings in tow. More girls, all who seemed to know one another well.

The sun was strong, and the children came to us warm and sweaty. Williams instigated a water fight by filling up Dixie cups with lukewarm drinking water. The children scooped up the cups and tossed them at each other, some screaming with glee, others with relief from the heat. The meals were forgotten, and perhaps the hunger, too, if for a moment.

Nourishing bodies, feeding minds
So what does this have to do with the United Way of Cass-Clay School Supply Drive?

To me, it’s the fact that these children (and some parents and guardians) wouldn’t have had lunch that day if we hadn’t served it to them.

If these children need help accessing nutritious meals every day in the summer when school’s out, it’s likely they also don’t get new backpacks, notepads, markers, pencils or that feeling of excitement many of us felt when starting a new school year.

Hungry bodies are also hungry of mind. School-age children are sponges that soak up information faster and better than our adult minds. But if they don’t have the tools necessary for optimal education, they’ll fall behind. They won’t have the opportunity to go back for seconds. They might go hungry.

It’s not too late
The United Way School Supply Drive ends soon.

Let’s fill some boxes. We must show these children they are loved and they are worthy of being nurtured.

They are our future. Find out how you can help. help now.

Items needed (all new materials, please)
• Unused backpacks
• Pencil pouches
• Glue sticks and glue bottles
• Dry-erase and Sharpie markers
• Markers and colored pencils
• Erasers and red pens
• Two-pocket folders
• Regular and composition notebooks
• Loose-leaf paper (college- and wide-ruled)
• Rulers

For questions or more information, email schoolsupplydrive@unitedwaycassclay.org.