With our hectic summer schedules, people often scramble to plan memory-making activities, yet the most meaningful activity of all might be right here at home: helping others.
MUST Ministries is in the midst of its’ 23rd year of Summer Lunch, a program that brings communities together in seven counties to feed children in need. “We are serving 6,000 - 7,000 children every week day by providing a nutritious lunch made and distributed by compassionate volunteers,” said Kristin Harrison, Senior Manager of Seasonal Programs at MUST.
Well over 2.5 million lunches have been served since the program began with just 25 lunches a day. Last summer, MUST provided 273,815 meals, thanks to hundreds of volunteers working in the program and making lunches.
The need for volunteers is still a challenge, she said, and we encourage everyone to get involved. “Feeding children in your community is not only life changing for the kids,” she said, “but also for the volunteer. Few things transform a person like helping a neighbor in need.”
Volunteers can help regularly - like one day a week - or more often. They can also serve off and on throughout the summer. The packing happens each morning before lunch and distribution is only about an hour each day.
Specifically, MUST is searching for several roles, including checker/packers who go to a host site to assure the freshness and accuracy of each lunch. They count the lunches and pack them in boxes to load in the delivery cars and vans. Anyone age 10 or older can help, and these children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Next the drivers and riders deliver the meals to apartment complexes, mobile home communities, parks and camps where large numbers of children need a lunch. These volunteers need background checks and drivers are required to submit a driving record review. MUST is searching for volunteers who will appreciate the joy and privilege of handing food to the youngest casualty of poverty.
The final need is for volunteers who will make lunches. A lunch includes a sandwich, two side items and a drink. Children receive turkey, ham, bologna and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches during the summer. Those who cannot make meals can donate supplies such as food, paper lunch bags, juice boxes, sealable sandwich bags, healthy snacks (applesauce cups, apples, granola bars), unopened sliced lunch meats, jelly (grape is best), unopened cheese slices individually wrapped and plastic gloves.
Other needs include groups to color and decorate lunch bags, donate children’s books for the every Friday delivery and host short Vacation Bible School sessions on site. “The children love the decorated bags and sometimes even put them on their walls for artwork,” Harrison said. The bags feature colorful flowers, rainbows, jokes, encouraging words or stickers.
Community members can host a supply drive or a neighborhood lunch-making gathering. Posting information on social media, telling friends, leading the way with a church group, business or civic club are all helpful.
Each county has a Summer Lunch Coordinator who should be emailed for details on where to drop off food or sign up to volunteer. All details are available on mustministries.org.
Meaningful stories from volunteers ...
“One little girl ran to her house with her lunch and came right back with half of her sandwich. I asked her where she went and she told me she put the other half on her bed so she would have dinner. It broke my heart.”
“As a child took the lunch from me, she told me she would save half for her mother so when she came home from work, she would have something to eat. How can this be happening in my community?”
“The children are always so thrilled to get a book on Fridays. They run to a shady tree and huddle around to read to the younger ones. It’s so sweet. They can’t believe they get to keep the books.”
“Once I was on a delivery route and we were short one lunch. I felt horrible for the last child in the line and my heart sank. Suddenly, a child ran up with an extra sack lunch and said he had gotten one for his brother, but he already had one. Suddenly, we had just enough. Those God moments happen all of the time in this program.”
“The children run to the van to get their meals every day and sometimes I get a flower or a note or even a colored picture. It always touches my heart.”