Each weekday this summer, you'll find Girl Scouts gathered under a shade tree at the Hannibal Aquatic Center, handing out free meals for the growing Summer Lunch youth program.
Kathy Riley, leader for Girl Scout Troops 9010 and 9217, said two girls accompany her each weekday from 11:30 a.m. to noon to help with the USDA-funded Summer Lunch youth program. Volunteers at Douglass Community Services (DCS) prepare lunches and bring coolers filled with meals to the Hannibal Aquatic Center and other sites throughout town. Stacey Nicholas, outreach coordinator with Douglass Community Services (DCS), said 4,000 meals were served in June — a 69% increase over the same month the previous year.
When Riley talked with Nicholas about helping serve lunches at a new location for 2019, the Girl Scouts in both troops were enthusiastic about their chance to make a difference.
"They all jumped onboard and were willing to help me," Riley said.
She said the crowd varies depending on the weather and other factors — one day the girls gave out 75 lunches to youth who stopped by. No matter what the temperature is or if it's raining, the girls are ready to hand out meals. Girls Scouts Callie, 6, and Leann, 7 gave Kirklin, 5, and Leighton, 11, lunches including chocolate or regular milk, a turkey sandwich, cucumbers with ranch dressing and trail mix Leighton said his first free summer lunch was "pretty cool."
Sarah Geist, with the University of Missouri Extension, talked with the children about nutrition. She represented the Family Nutrition Education Program — also funded by the USDA — and she showed charts featuring the five food groups and emphasized the importance of healthy eating habits.
"It's great to interact with the kids and teach them about nutrition," she said. "A lot of kids here don't have somewhere they can go for a healthy meal in the summer. A lot of kids are sitting at home and they're eating 'grab and go' foods... so it's a great program that they provide healthy, well-balanced meals with all five food groups." Leann and Callie each shared their feelings about making a local impact.
"I like doing it," Leann said. "My favorite part is giving out lunches." Callie was handing out meals for her first time, and she enjoyed "helping people" the most.
Riley said the Girl Scouts weren't the only youth who were enthusiastic about the lunchtime visits.
"There were a couple little kids who were excited to see us," she said. "I mean overly excited — they'd ask us when our next day was when we were coming back."
To learn more about the Summer Lunch youth program or help out, call Nicholas at 573-221-3892.