Each weekday, volunteers throughout Hannibal work together to feed area children amid the rapidly growing Super Suppers and Summer Lunch programs — almost 4,000 meals were served in June, accounting for a 69% increase over the same month the previous year.
Stacey Nicholas, outreach coordinator with Douglass Community Services (DCS), said the increase totaled 77% when including snacks and breakfasts with the lunches and suppers. Volunteers prepare meals each day in the DCS kitchen and deliver and distribute meals to sites throughout town. The number of meals served reflects youth's growing need for nutritious daily meals and steady teamwork throughout the community that fuels the growth.
"Our volunteers make this happen," Nicholas said.
DCS is a United Way participating agency, and Nicholas said community organizations and agencies like Hannibal Public Schools, local churches, Hannibal Manor and Hannibal Parks and Recreation have helped ensure that children don't have to walk too far to receive a meal. In April, the Hannibal Rotary Club donated $15,000 with matching funds from the Riedel Foundation so DCS could purchase a delivery van to distribute the growing number of meals each day.
The United States Department of Agriculture provides federal funding for the meals, and Nicholas said officials express amazement that the program is run by a team of about 60 volunteers.
In the DCS kitchen on Monday, John Rickey, Logan Smith and Cody White prepared meals and packed them in coolers for each location. The work is done through a partnership with Gamm Incorporated and provides the teens with compensation and foodservice training while they make a local impact. Rickey said initial feelings of nervousness gave way to positive emotions as he visited with the kids and gave them meals each day.
"Being able to help out makes me feel pretty good, because I know I'm doing something besides just doing nothing," he said. "At least I know I'm doing something for a good cause."
Nicholas said there is a "loop of care and happiness" between the volunteers and the children who show their gratitude. Each day at Hannibal Manor, a young girl named Harlee jumps at the chance to help, pushing the cooler like a shopping cart.
"None of us can do this as individuals. We have to be a community that cares," Nicholas said. "The increase in our ability to feed children happens because the community cares."
For more information about the Summer Lunch program or how to help out, Nicholas can be reached at 573-221-3892.