I would say I have a love for procedure; I am the one always looking for how to write something into standard operating procedure or manual. It is way of thinking that I can quickly recognize in others and appreciate greatly, and something I saw to my great joy while visiting Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana this late June to see its summer programs.
I was graciously hosted by Kathy Keiner, the chief programs and agency relations officer, and Hope Pascoe, its current child hunger corps member, who took time out of their busy schedules to show us Gleaners’ facilities and two of its summer feeding sites. Our first meal site visit was to the Patricia Elmore Center Recreation Complex, the home for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department and Senior Center. There I quickly found a kindred spirit in the site coordinator, who had done an amazing job organizing this summer meals site, and it clearly was paying off.
The Patricia Elmore Center Recreation Complex hosts a summer meal site which serves nutritious lunches, prepared daily during the week, to children in need from their local community. There I meet the complex’s site coordinator, Jeannie Roberts, who is the volunteer engagement coordinator at the United Way of Central Indiana. Hosting this summer feeding site was just one of her many duties and she has approached the many challenges of running a summer feeding site with an critical eye that has helped them cope with and overcome the challenges often faced by summer meal programs and has resulted in a great summer experience for children in need in their community.
One of the toughest challenges many summer feeding sites face is the fluctuations in the number of kids that come to eat each day. Ordering the right amount of food, even when done daily, is a challenge. Sites always estimate high because they would never want to have a child leave empty handed. Jeannie has addressed this challenge for her site by keeping a backup supply of shelf-stable meals. Now, on those days when participation is particularly high, if they run out of meals they always have a backup. These shelf stable meals are put together by volunteers and Jeannie provides clear instructions right on the bag so there is never any confusion or worry that an item gets missed if a volunteer is using the shelf-stable meals for the first time. This attention to detail is the kind of program work that makes my heart swoon. It’s a simple step to put together these instructions, and they ultimately improve the program for the children.
You can see this high level of organization in other places too. There are reminders to hand children milk, extra menus to hand out to parents so they can coordinate their dinners at home and more. This skill for coordination also goes beyond just meal service and also extends to programming. The site has developed partnerships with several organizations including a local hospital, girl scouts and local library to provide volunteers, nutrition education and books to read. These partnerships provide an enriching environment for the children that come to eat each day.
Running meal sites for children during the summer is no easy task, especially when you have a large number of sites in rural locations like Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana does. In reality we were only able to see a small fraction of its expansive summer programming, which includes family boxes of food in rural areas and packs of food for children to take home for the weekend at meal sites. The success of all of these program models comes from hard work, great partnerships and passionate program champions. It was a great pleasure to see all of those factors at work while visiting Gleaner’s summer meals sites. Although we only got to see the tip of the iceberg, it was very clear why its programs are such a great success and it’s encouraging to see the food bank reach so many children who might otherwise not get the food they need throughout the summer.
* Emily Nelson is a program information specialist, grants administration at Feeding America. Learn more about how summer food service programs work across the Feeding America network.