Every Monday through Friday, from the last day of school in Lee’s Summit to the first, Kathy Wittman helps make over a hundred deli meat sandwiches in her church’s kitchen.
Then someone else — usually another parishioner but sometimes a stranger with a good heart — helps stuff those sandwiches into brown paper bags with chips, yogurt, fruit and a cookie. Those sack lunches are delivered to five neighborhoods in Lee’s Summit, Raymore and Peculiar and served to around 110 school-age kids every weekday.
Wittman is a team leader at Holy Spirit Catholic Church for a summer lunch program that has been implemented across the city by four churches and a nonprofit. Volunteers make and deliver food to children who typically receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year.
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Other participating organizations are the Summit Church, Woods Chapel United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit and Coldwater of Lee’s Summit, a faith-based nonprofit. Each tackles a neighborhood and alters the program to fit that area’s needs.
“We try to keep in tune with what’s going on in the communities and schools,” said Monica Humbard, Coldwater’s executive director. “We all are trying to work together, but we make sure we’re not doing the same thing since we have to provide different things for different situations.”
Holy Spirit’s program has been around since spring 2016, when Wittman heard about the original program at the Summit Church.
“I thought, ‘You know, we could do that too,’ ” she said.
Wittman and fellow parishioner Judy Adams called up Pam Reilly, Summit Church’s missions coordinator, to ask for advice on how to get started.
Reilly and her team helped Holy Spirit figure out delivery routes, streamline the assembly system and find places to buy food.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Adams said. “It’s a nice thing to work with other denominations.”
Since then, Holy Spirit has serviced over 7,000 people with the program.
Meals are delivered to accessible spots like neighborhood parks between 11:30 a.m. and noon every weekday.
Wittman said they usually guess how many lunches to bring to meeting spots every day based on previous meals. Sometimes they’ll have leftover meals, but most of the time each one they bring is taken.
“Anyone that asks for a lunch gets a lunch,” Wittman said.
Kids usually find out about the program during the school year, when flyers are sent home about their area’s program. During the summer, signs are posted in parks and apartment complexes to announce meeting spots, but the news mostly travels word-of-mouth. The lunches are given out first come, first serve.
There are at least 16 volunteers who participate in Holy Spirit’s program every day: six to help prepare the meals and five two-person teams that deliver them. The delivery teams must go through a background check, according to diocese policies.
Adams said helpers range from high school kids needing volunteer hours to retired people with extra time on their hands.
“When people think about kids being hungry, it really tugs at their heartstrings,” she said.
The Holy Spirit program runs solely on donations, whether from collection at services or from community members who see its value.
Coldwater, on the other hand, also receives grants from companies like Walmart. That way, it can do extra things in its designated neighborhoods, like hosting science days with teachers or block party barbecues every Tuesday night.
“We try to bring fun things for kids to enjoy so they’re not bored,” Humbard said. “A lot of the kids in these neighborhoods can’t afford to go to summer camps or take computer classes, but we still want them to have fun in the summer.”
Though some could see making hundreds of sandwiches and organizing teams of volunteers to be a chore, the Holy Spirit team members said the reactions they get from the children they help keep them going.
“When you just see their faces light up just to get some food, and they say thank you because they really mean it, it’s a great feeling,” Wittman said. “We definitely feel like we get more than we give.”