Hoping to Boost Summer Lunch Programs

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By Evie Allen

MARION -- Officials with the USDA and the Illinois Hunger Coalition were in Williamson County to increase participation in the summer lunch program.

Those officials stopped in Energy and in Marion to get a first-hand look at what the programs provide. While here, they also wanted to see how they can help move the programs forward.

For 25 years the Boyton Street Community Center has provided meals for kids during the summer months.

"When we first started, we had quite a few children. We would serve sometime up to 90-100 children," said site manager Margaret Walls.

Walls has been there since day one and says she's seen generation after generation rely on the program. But for years, transportation to the center has been a struggle.

"A lot of kids don't have a way to get here. We have kids all in neighborhoods that don't have a way to get to the lunch program," Walls explained.

With USDA officials in town, Walls would like to shed some light on the issue. This is the first time regional administrator Tim English has been there. One of his goals is to see and hear the problems first hand.

"During the school year we have a number of kids who we see free and reduced price meals. Come the summer months they don't participate," he said.

Walls believes that without a way to get there, they will continue to see a lack of participation. And that means some are going hungry. 

English said he's hopes to help change that.

"Is there a bus company during the summer that isn't being used for the schools? Is there a way that we can get funding to help utilize those existing resources during the summer months?" English questioned.     

Walls said a lot of the children walk, which just reinforces the need. And to her it's all about the children.

"I know how it is because I struggled when I was young getting lunches and hot meals through the summer. So I like to see the kids eat a healthy meal," she said.

Walls added, she hopes they help resolve the transportation issues before next summer. Volunteers are also needed and she would like to see more parents help out.

The program wraps up on July 31.

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