The Kids Lunch Club through the Westerville Area Resource Ministry provided 43,476 meals to about 550 students this summer.

The free program provides children age 1 to 18 with nutritious meals and enrichment activities throughout the summer when school isn't in session.

"In 2011, (we set up) our first site at Ridgewood Park with 100 students," said Cheryl Wooten, director of development and communications for WARM. "Now we have close to 550 students."

The program has expanded to 10 sites, with one being a modified bus.

"We can take fresh fruit to neighborhoods," Wooten said. "Our bus goes out and delivers lunches and has meaningful activities as well.

"We also offered backpacks for kids who may be at risk over the weekend. The backpacks are filled with food, if they're at risk of not having food over the weekend," she said.

The program covers 52 square miles, reaching many students.

"We are right now at (a) 36 percent free and reduced ratio," Wooten said. "That's just the school district and indicative of the populations."

She said another five sites could be opened if there were sponsors.

"We can't open a site until we have a sponsorship," she said. "We have to do it in a prudent manner and (maintain) stewardship."

Wooten said every year WARM looks for help for sustainability of a site.

"We ask $15,000 to sponsor a site," she said.

What pleases Wooten about the lunch sites is that everyone can come and eat.

With the schools' free and reduced lunch program, a student has to be attending school to receive breakfast or lunch.

Wooten said Mount Carmel St. Ann's and McDonald's have been with the program every step of the way.

On the final day of the club Aug. 11, Linda and Myron Ware, owners/operators of four local McDonald's, donated 750 backpacks filled with supplies to the students in the program as they prepared to head back to school.

"At McDonald's, we believe in the communities we serve and the future of our young generation so it's always amazing when we are able to give back," said Linda Ware, Westerville McDonald's owner operator.

"This is the sixth year McDonald's of Columbus and central Ohio has partnered with WARM to provide Happy Meals to local children and the second year we've donated backpacks filled with supplies and we couldn't be more honored to see the joy our donations have brought throughout the years," she said.

Ware also donates McDonald's milk and apple slices year-round to WARM to include in lunches they provide to children.

Wooten said the schools prepare the lunches for the lunch club and WARM purchases them.

"The schools are great partners to make sure we have the right meals for the summer Lunch Club," she said. "Counselors and teachers help us identify those in need."

Wooten said WARM has a nutrition center and resources to help with employment.

"The food is our entree into the family to help stabilize the family so they can focus on the next step to become self-sufficient," she said.

For more information, visit warmwesterville.org.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla