The Westerville Area Resource Ministry expects to provide more than 20,000 meals to students age 18 and younger this summer through its Kids Lunch Club program. Perhaps much more.
Through the summer program, WARM steps in to provide nutritious lunches to students who during the school year depend on free and reduced-priced lunches and breakfast at school.
"We have a lot of collaboration in the community. It takes a village," said Jackie Haight, Kids Lunch Club coordinator for WARM. "We depend on (the community) to function and appreciate everything the community does. We want to help feed kids this summer."
The program began in summer 2011, available at only Ridgewood Park. In just a few years, the program has expanded to seven additional sites at other parks and apartments in the Westerville City School District.
Last year, WARM provided 10,546 lunch meals on weekdays and 14,514 meals on weekends, totaling at 25,060 meals in one summer.
Haight didn't have exact numbers, but she said the program continues to grow. Each day, the program serves about 300 children.
"The numbers are higher," Haight said. "Part of that is new sites, but in addition to that, two of our sites last year have grown. We have a steady flow at three sites, so we see an average at this point."
The summer lunch program is a USDA program and it is administered through the Ohio Department of Education.
WARM located its sites based on data from the school district and federal census, on where district students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches live.
WARM's sites are open, meaning that anyone under the age of 18 can receive a free meal. It is operated on a first come, first serve basis.
The program's goal is simple: to feed every hungry student in the district.
"To feed more kids. That's always our goal," Haight said.
The Kids Lunch Club continues to expand in more ways. Program staff coordinates various physical activities and crafts to keep children engaged mentally and physically.
At the Newcastle Townhomes (formerly known as La Vista Townhomes), Northtowne Park and Huber Village Park locations, WARM is piloting a reading program.
Teachers and volunteers read to the children to help boost vocabulary and keep kids' minds in the books.
"It's just about reading to the kids and challenging them with words that may be unfamiliar," Haight said.
The Westerville Kiwanis Club visits with donated books from Half Price Books and sorts them based on reading level. Lunch Club students can then pick two free books to read.
It is too soon to tell how well the 2014 program is going. Haight said, and staff will re-evaluate at the end of the summer to see what can be done better or differently, and possibly add more sites next year.
The Westerville Area Kids Summer Lunch Club runs weekdays through Aug. 8.
Times and locations are as follows:
* Abbey Lane Apartments, 4301 Goldengate Oval, Columbus, noon to 12:45 p.m.
* Alum Creek South Park, 535 Park Meadow Road, Westerville, 11 to 11:45 a.m.
* Huber Village Park, 362 Huber Village Blvd., Westerville, 11 to 11:45 a.m.
* Newcastle Townhomes, 6797 Spring House Lane, Columbus, 11 to 11:45 a.m.
* Northtowne Park, 4778 Heatherton Drive, Columbus, 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
* North Park Church, 4938 Westerville Road, Columbus, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
* Ridgewood Park, 5402 Buenos Aires Blvd., Westerville, 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
* Strawberry Farms Park, 3600 Creek Ridge Court, Columbus, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.