September 12, 2016
By Blake Hodge
One word kept coming up at the meeting wrapping up the Food for the Summer effort last Wednesday, amazing.
An amazing number of meals served; an amazing effort to organize all of the moving parts; and amazing work by community members volunteering to hand out these meals.
“We had no idea how we were going to make this work,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said after the meeting. “It was a pilot, and we thought we would be somewhat successful.
“To see all of the pieces that came together to make it even a bigger experience than we were planning on – with the books, with the activity buckets, with all of the interactions with kids, with growing TABLE’s list of kids to help serve – I had no idea we could actually reach that far in such a short period of time.”
Hemminger said this was a shining example of the Chapel Hill – Carrboro community coming together for a common cause.
“I’m so proud of the community for responding,” she said. “That’s a lot of volunteers for a program that never existed before. We want to do a better job reaching more kids earlier and letting them know this is an opportunity. But I love when you hear the stories of community members who interacted with kids.”
Hemminger specifically pointed to the police and fire departments getting involved to enhance the children’s experience.
“Their experience is more than just giving them food.”
Program coordinator Katie Hug said that, even considering the success of this year’s pilot campaign, there is plenty of room for growth.
“We need to really listen to the kids; we need to talk to the kids; and we need to make sure we’re heard by the kids,” Hug said. “We’re so excited about the numbers we had, but I think they, most definitely, can and should grow.”
Whatever growth happens next summer will happen without Hug being as integral of a part as she was this year to launch the program. Hug has taken a position with the state Department of Public Instruction to help with outreach of similar programs across North Carolina. But she says she can’t quite come to grips that this first experience is over quite yet.
“Not yet, because it can’t be over,” Hug said. “It’s just the beginning of something that’s amazing. And it’s going to continue, I have no doubt about it.”
Over the 54 days of summer from mid-June to late-August, 48,145 meals were served by the Food for the Summer program. To make sure all of those meals got to the children in need, 525 adult volunteers, with the more than 100 children who accompanied them, filled 1748 volunteer shifts. After jumping into the program mid-summer, more than 3,500 books were distributed as part of the effort as well.
There are still challenges to overcome and the group is still looking at information to know if the program’s financial model is sustainable. The group will be working to secure grants to keep the work going next summer and hopefully increase its impact.
More information is available at the Food for the Summer website.