Whitaker Chapel United Methodist Church, in an effort sponsored by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and coordinated by the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center, is hosting a free lunch for school age children each Friday throughout the summer.
Meals will begin on June 23 and will continue on Fridays through August 8.
The lone exception is the meal which would have been scheduled for July 7. Volunteers will take that week off with meals to resume on July 14.
According to lead organizer Debbie O’Reilly, the church will host any youth in attendance for a free meal and activities such as games and crafts. Times for the weekly program are from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.. Lunches will begin being served at 12:30 and, due to program restrictions, will be served for one hour only.
In addition to lunch, youths will receive a backpack filled with food, a water bottle and a box of food items to take home to families. Organizers refer to this food to be taken home to families as a key element of the summer program.
“Second Harvest is providing the food for the lunches,” O’Reilly explained.”Our church and Shoals United Methodist Church are providing food to be taken home. And on the last day we’ll be sending home some school supplies.”
“Community support has made all of this possible,” she continued. “This is our fourth year in the program and the Pilot Mountain Ruritan Club has been so good to support us throughout. Other Ruritan clubs have since come on board with them and we’ve had several businesses donate. We’re still collecting donations from area businesses. We’ve been so blessed to have this support.”
The program is also accepting volunteers to help with crafts and games and to interact with children. According to program guidelines, those helping with food must have gone through an earlier training session. Four church volunteers have received training for this year’s program, including O’Reilly, Linda Covington, Sylvia McGalliard and Ken Lawrence.
“We see so many young children who are hungry and malnourished,” Covington said. “We consider it our responsibility as Christians to reach out to children and their families with healthy food. It’s our way of sharing God’s love.”
“Kids are so important,” O’Reilly added. “I meet kids who have been a part of this program in previous years and they still come running up for a hug. The food is important but so is the social aspect of this. Children need both.”
“This comes at a good time,” explained Pilot Mountain Outreach Co-Director Jimmy Caparolie. “Kids are out of school and this is one day a week when they can get out of the house, have a meal and some fun with other children.”
“We have a big percentage of kids on the free and reduced meal programs at school so there’s an obvious need for them to receive help during the summer.”
Caparolie said the center hopes to be able to expand the program into other churches and communities.
“I wish more churches would get involved,” he noted. “I’d like to see the program happening on different days or in different communities. There is no expense for the kids’ lunches and churches get an extra hour for children’s programs. Volunteers have to receive some training but that can start this summer in order for them to be ready to go next summer.”
Whitaker Chapel United Methodist Church is located at 751 Whitaker Chapel Road in Pilot Mountain.