Hunger at home: Summer Lunch Program launches to feed Carmel children in need

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From left, Maggie Figge, Janet Wichmanowski, Steve Wichmanowski and Anita Hagen pack bags for the Summer Lunch Program. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

By Heather Collins

Many people equate Carmel with affluence, but more than 1,400 of the city’s children are at risk of going hungry during the summer months. A 2016 United Way report states that because of the high cost of living in Carmel, some residents must choose between making a house payment or putting food on the table.

Several local organizations are banding together to engage the community in halting hunger and food insecurities for Carmel children this summer. The Carmel Youth Assistance Program, Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank, Carmel Clay Schools, Carmel Rotary, the Merciful Help Center, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, Carmel United Methodist Church, Pilgrim Lutheran Church and the Carmel Kiwanis Club have launched the first community-funded and supported Carmel Summer Lunch Program.

“This program would not be a reality for this summer without all these entities stepping up to own some part of the process,” said Maggie Figge, early intervention advocate for the Carmel Youth Assistance Program. “This program is too big for one group to take it on by themselves.”

For the pilot year, the program will target children from Carmel elementary schools that have the highest free and reduced-lunch population.

“We have 1,400 children in Carmel who depend on two meals per day at school. And many of those families receive backpacks full of food for the weekends, but until now, there hasn’t been any resources for these families in the summer,” Figge said.

The program aims to provide nutritious ingredients for each child to make five healthy breakfasts and lunches for each of the 11 weeks of summer break. Families also will be provided with a weekly menu plan tailored to the available items. The program will provide a delivery option for families who do not have readily available transportation.

Free and reduced-lunch and breakfast programs are not available year-round because Hamilton County doesn’t meet the threshold for federal funding for student meals during the summer months, said Anita Hagen, executive director of the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank.

Out of Indiana’s 92 counties, Hamilton ranks seventh when it comes to food insecurity, Hagen said. More than 27,150 people in Hamilton County have food insecurities, and 11,470 of those are children.

“We are trying to educate Carmel residents that there is also a need for their involvement right here in their hometown,” Figge said. “This program is also a really neat example of how the nonprofit organizations, schools, churches and hopefully the private sector can all partner together for the greater good.”

The organizations are seeking assistance from the community to help make the Carmel Summer Lunch Program a success. Residents are encouraged to connect with any of the organizations involved, set-up local food drives for the program or make monetary and food donations.

High-demand foods for the program include peanut butter, chicken and tuna pouches, cereal, fruit cups and rice packages.

Hagen finds the program inspiring.

“Children who are hungry or families who are hungry are going to be cared for this summer through the tremendous and widespread support of our generous community,” she said. “What a blessing.”

Summer Lunch Program volunteers, from left, Francie Wolos of St. Christopher Episcopal Church, Lynne Davis of Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, Teresa Walters of St. Christopher’s and the Kiwanis Club of Carmel, Jayne Slaton of Merciful Help Center, Jennifer McFarland of Carmel Clay Schools, Anita Hagen of Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank, Sue Westermeier of the Rotary Club of Carmel, Steve and Janet Wichmanowski of Mericful Help Center, Maggie Figge of the Carmel Youth Assistance Program, Tricia Seitz of St. Christopher’s and the Kiwanis Club, Nicole Murphy of Merciful Help Center and Mike Podgorski of Carmel United Methodist Church. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

HOW TO HELP

For information on starting a food drive for the Carmel Summer Lunch Program, contact Doug Mehlan at fooddrive@hchfoodbank.org.

Food donations can be dropped off at the office or in the yellow HCH Food Bank barrels at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, 1402 W. Main St.

Monetary donations can be made via check made payable to Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank, P.O. Box 881, Noblesville, IN 46061 and marked “Carmel Summer Lunch.” Online donations can made at HCHFoodBank.org under the “Summer Lunch: Carmel School Area” designated fund. All monetary donations are tax deductible will be used exclusively for food donations to the Carmel Summer Lunch Program.

For donation and volunteer information, visit the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank website at HCHFoodBank.org. For updates, follow Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank on Facebook.

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