District: River Valley
Submitted by: La Crescent United Methodist Church
By Amanda Willis
How do you bring members of a community together? Feed them lunch.
Last summer, children from all backgrounds gathered once a week to eat lunches packed by La Crescent United Methodist Church’s Lunch Wagon program.
The program was inspired by a Facebook post about a Twin Cities church that was packing lunches in the summer for children who were on free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. Mindy Kearney, La Crescent UMC’s director of youth and children’s ministries, was challenged to start something similar in her congregation.
She had lots of help. A few members of the congregation volunteered to help get the program started. They contacted local businesses, using their own connections, and explained what they wanted to do for the community—and the businesses responded with generous donations.
The community embraced the project from the start. The local grocery store, a gas station, a bank, The Lions Club, La Crescent Middle School, and a variety of individuals donated fresh meats, milk, and money for the lunches. The group also worked with the Hunger Task Force of La Crosse to fill in the gaps with needed items. The Hunger Task Force provides food to food shelves at bulk rates, making it more affordable for churches and non-profits to help others.
“You don’t always know who is in need,” Kearney said. “This community has a 30 to 35 percent reduced-lunch rate, so if there are 15 kids in a class, that means five of them are on the reduced lunch program.”
During the summer, 70 to 100 children showed up for lunch each week at one of the three drop-off locations. The church chose drop-off locations that were public and had a lot of foot traffic. The busiest location was the town’s park, which has a pool.
No one was turned away. At the pool, the children would gather at picnic tables and enjoy fellowship while eating.
“We opened this to any kid that wanted a meal,” La Crescent UMC member and Lunch Wagon volunteer Curly Newcomb said. “[The Lunch Wagon] united those kids; they looked forward to it.”
By the end of the summer, the group had served nearly 800 fresh sack lunches. They usually included a meat sandwich, milk, a fruit, a vegetable, a granola bar, and a cheese stick.
The La Crescent Chamber of Commerce noticed the good work that was taking place and gave the project a Spirit Award on Sept. 17. The monthly award is given to individuals, organizations, or businesses that make a difference in the community.
The church not only plans to bring back the Lunch Wagon next summer—but expand it to provide lunches three days a week. With so much support from the community, the hope is that other churches and groups will want to assist in the effort.
“If they came, we fed them—the more people who came, the more comfortable [those receiving the lunches] would feel,” Kearney said. “It was different from a soup kitchen that way.”
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church