Members of the Wilson Assembly of God church don’t like to think about children in their community going hungry or missing a meal since school is out for the summer. And that’s why they decided to do something about it.
The thought of some youths going without lunch or scrounging for food led church leaders to contact — and later partner with — the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Since the beginning of June, the church has opened the doors to its fellowship hall two days a week, providing a spread of sandwiches, chips, fruit cups, cookies and drinks for all children to come and enjoy at no cost.
“There is such a need,” says Peggy Dowdy, one of the church’s lead volunteers for the program. “The children are hungry that come out here. We provide them with a meal and give them words of encouragement. If we help one person, we have succeed.”
Each Tuesday and Wednesday, all children age 18 and under are welcome to eat lunch at the church from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The food is provided by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma as part of the non-profit organization’s summer feeding program. Schools and charitable organizations in central and western Oklahoma are participating in the program that strives to provide a nutritious lunch during the summer months for children who may otherwise go hungry.
The food bank reports one in four children in Oklahoma struggle with hunger every day, and with school released for the summer, children no longer have school lunches to rely on for a meal.
This is the first summer for the Wilson church to participate in the program, says church pastor Dale Tarp.
Forty folding chairs are set out along two rows of tables each Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite flyers around town and notices in the Wilson and Healdton newspapers, the church has not witnessed all chairs filled with children eating lunch. The church is located on U.S. Highway 70A, the main street in Wilson.
“It runs in spurts. One day we had about 30 kids,” Tarp recalls. “Then last Wednesday, we had only eight. You never know, and I think that’s because it is a new thing. It is taking time.”
The church will offer the meals through July 30, and is hopeful more will take advantage of the lunch along with the games and volunteers on hand to spend time with the children. The church encourages children to stick around after lunch to play a game and meet new friends. Additionally, youth enrolled in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Carter County summer camp drop in for lunch.
Dowdy says parents are welcome to come in the church, too, grabbing a seat next to their child as they eat the meal. She says mothers will bring in their children and sit by another mother with children, visiting during the lunch hour.
The Wilson Assembly of God church is not the only area organization to participate in the summer feeding program by the food bank. In Ardmore, Cities In Schools offers lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 125 E St. NW.
Children in Ringling can visit the community center for lunch, which is served from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The community center is located at 106 W. Main St. Both the Ringling and Ardmore locations will serve free lunches through July 25.
The food bank reports there are 75 sites participating in the summer feeding program. Last summer, more than 166,000 meals were served to children at 63 sites, according to figures released by the food bank.
As the summer continues, hundreds of volunteers, like Dowdy, will continue to prepare the meals, with the goal of reaching more youth and fighting childhood hunger.
“They get what they need here,” Dowdy says, looking across the fellowship hall as groups of children take bites of turkey and cheese sandwiches. “It is open to all children, and we are ready for them.”