Free Summer Food Program a Hit

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Randy Livingston

WEST FRANKFORT - For many kids, the summer is a time for freedom and fun, but for others, it can mean a drop of one to two meals a day. West Frankfort is finding a large need to keep the meals coming for kids, outside the school year.

This is the first summer West Frankfort has ever had a free a lunch program. Members of 1st Christian Church say they're hoping to ease the hunger of some kids and give them some relief from the heat.

Shooting some hoops is not a bad way to spend the summer, but for these kids, the small pleasure of a little b-ball inside this air conditioned building means a lot more when AC is not always readily available.

"I did talk to one of the adults and she was telling me yesterday it was 88 degrees in her house when she left," comments David Bartoni, a volunteer with the free lunch program.

For an hour and half Monday through Friday, 1st Christian Church in West Frankfort becomes the ultimate summer getaway for roughly 30-50 children.

"We just play games, then play more games. And then on Friday we usually have a special guest," says Jacklyn Prakel, another volunteer.

Playing games, hanging out with friends, and getting a well-needed meal they might not find at home.

"There is so many children throughout the community that when school is out, they don't eat regularly. They don't eat regular meals, they may not get three meals a day. That's why this is so important," explains Bartoni.

More than half of West Frankfort's student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch, but during the school year, students can get their breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria. It's the summers that can leave them hungry.

"I had one kid the very first day say, 'This is paradise.' He was eating pizza in the air conditioning. That's just something he didn't get at home," exclaims Bartoni.

Church members now even pack weekend lunches for kids who need them. So that kids can experience all the pleasures that should come with summer.

The program continues until August 12th. Organizers even provide transportation to bring kids to the church. Anyone under 18 can participate in the government funded program. And adults who could use a free meal won't be turned down. The church will pick up those costs.

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