It started with a challenge. The pastor of Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church asked members to come up with a way to serve the community.
The idea that emerged was to feed kids who might otherwise go hungry in the summer.
Members started serving a hot lunch to about 20 kids at the church’s downtown location. Twelve years later, The Summit Lunch program provides 12,000 to 13,000 sack lunches every summer at 14 locations throughout the city. The program is one of 12 receiving grant funds from the Greater Lee’s Summit Healthcare Foundation in 2019.
The foundation’s funds help organizations making a positive impact in the community and promoting health and well-being in the Lee’s Summit Area.
About 170 volunteers coordinate The Summit Lunch program at what is now called The Summit Church. They put out signs every day to let kids know what time they can expect lunch to show up. The school district helps church volunteers figure out what neighborhoods, streets or areas might be a center of need. Volunteers hand out sack lunches to any child who comes up and asks – every day, Monday through Friday, all summer long.
The church’s executive pastor, Ryan Schreckenghaust, says any child 18 or younger can get a meal.
“We want the barrier for entry to be really low. A hungry kid doesn’t have access to Mom and Dad’s tax information to let us know how much they make. Our goal is to get food into the hands of children who need it,” Schreckenghaust said.
Church volunteers make about 250 lunches a day. The numbers usually grow throughout the summer, as kids find out where they can get the meals.
Carol Clark has volunteered to help with the program nearly every year. She currently helps coordinate volunteers at the church. In the early years, when they were serving a hot lunch out of the church’s kitchen, she says they felt they needed to do more.
“We realized we were not making as big of an impact as we thought we could,” Clark said. “In 2011, we decided to deliver lunches into the community. That first year, we delivered 5,000 lunches. We knew we were on the right track,” Clark said.
When the program grew to providing about 13,000 lunches a summer, volunteers realized they could reach even more kids if they included other churches. Those faith partners now include Woods Chapel United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church Lee’s Summit and Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Coldwater. Combined, the churches are able to serve about 20,000 lunches in Lee’s Summit and surrounding communities.
The churches coordinate delivery locations, but otherwise run their own programs.
At The Summit Church, overhead of the program is covered by donations from parishioners. They rely on grant money, like that from the Greater Lee’s Summit Healthcare Foundation, and community partners to purchase and provide the food.
The $5,000 foundation grant covers about a third of the food costs for the entire summer. Other partners, like Hy-Vee, make donations of items like bags for packing the lunches. McDonald’s on Third Street is a new partner in 2019, donating apple slices once a week when the church purchases hamburgers and chicken sandwiches for the lunches.
“It is not surprising that McDonald’s has been a hit among the children this summer,” Schreckenghaust said.
Clark’s inspiration for volunteering is simple. It’s about the kids. She has seen and hears stories all the time about children who get the lunch as their first meal of the day, or who wait patiently even in the rain for drivers to show up with a meal. The biggest challenge of the program is knowing there are kids in the neighborhoods who could use the food, but don’t come out.
“We know there is lots of need out there. We just try to choose a spot close to where the kids are,” Clark said.
The program starts on the first day of summer break and runs until the day before school starts.
Delivery locations include the following streets and housing areas: Hillcrest Transitional Housing, Strasbourg Apartments, Monroe, Country Lane, Hampton Court, Ashbrooke, The Oaks, Langsford House, Oxford Place, Knollbrook, Timbercreek, View High Lake, Westvale, Pro Deo (Wednesday only).