Groups help take on hunger

FAIRMONT — This is the second year that a group of people from different organizations have rallied together to provide free meals in the Fairmont area to those in need during the summer months.

The initial meeting last year took place because there was concern about how students receiving free and reduced lunches during the school year would be fed during the summer.

This is the second year that the program, called Summer Hunger, has been working to meet the needs of those in need. Last summer, volunteers would hand out sandwiches at a few designated spots twice per week.

This past week was the start of this summer’s program. From now through August, sandwiches and possibly more will be distributed from Veterans Park and the park at Johnson Street Apartments from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

However, not just school-aged children can come for a sandwich. This is open to everybody in the community. Katy Gonzales, executive director at Kinship of Martin County, said those who have family members who are unable to come get a sandwich for themselves can grab extras as well.

When planning for this summer, it was discussed that other locations and hours were desired in order to make sure that everyone who wants a sandwich will have access to one.

“We’ve now reached out to different businesses and churches to see if they’d like to be sandwich stops during the week so that it’s not just two days a week,” Gonzales explained.

Fairmont United Methodist Church, Grace Lutheran Church, First Congregational UCC and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Fairmont have all said they would like to be additional sandwich stops during the week, although the days and hours will vary for each location.

“Other businesses and churches can help us so that we can spread throughout Fairmont,” Gonzales explained

Gonzales said they are trying to expand to Welcome but are looking for businesses or churches that can be a sandwich stop. They also are looking for someone on the north side of town in Fairmont to be a sandwich stop because Veterans Park is the farthest they go right now.

“The goal is to eventually become entirely countywide. By partnering with businesses or churches that already have regular staffed hours, we can drop off sandwiches and people can know that there’s always a place to go get them,” said Gonzales, adding, “The great thing about churches or businesses is that they’re already there so if they have a little bit of freezer space we can drop off loaves for them every week and we can keep restocking.”

At least a sandwich is guaranteed, but a variety of other items may be sprinkled in from time to time depending on what the group has access to. Culligan water has donated some water bottles that will be handed out along with the sandwiches.

“If anyone would like to donate any leftover items such as granola bars or apples, as long as it can sit out in the sun for about half an hour, that would be nice,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said they handed out about 30 sandwiches on the second day of the program this summer, which was pretty good considering they haven’t done much advertising yet. Last summer, which was the first time the program was up and running, they distributed more than 4,000 sandwiches over the course of three months.

The first pack of this summer was done by Grace Lutheran Church. Gonzales reported this last week they made 800 sandwiches, and this coming week they plan to make 1,400. The sandwiches are then frozen and taken out to thaw before they are distributed.

As for how the sandwich ingredients are paid for, Gonzales said so far it has just been through donations that people have given to the different churches participating in the sandwich packs. Grace Lutheran Church is doing the packs for the month of June while First Congregational UCC will handle the packs in July.

“Kinship is the fiscal agent of it for this summer because we had received a SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Partnership) grant and the leftover funds will be designated to Summer Hunger for signage,” said Gonzales, explaining that volunteers handing out sandwiches will have name tags, and official signs will be put up at each sandwich stop with the hours and days listed.

Starting next week, any leftover sandwiches will be taken to the park program that CER puts on. The park program takes place in the summer months several days each week at a different park in Fairmont. Gonzales said they can only hand out snacks during that time so she partnered with Roni Dauer of CER so that leftover sandwiches can be brought to the children there.

There are quite a few people involved in the Summer Hunger program, including Greta Lintelman from Heaven’s Table and Joy Pollock, as well as Kay Campe and David Adams from First Congressional Church. Nicole Kueker helped lead the first pack at Grace Lutheran Church. Beth Labenz, a mentor with Kinship, and Roni Dauer at Fairmont CER also have been involved.

Gonzales said they are always looking for more ideas, so if people notice a need somewhere or have an idea to help, suggestions would be appreciated.

Donations can be made out to Kinship, but it must be specified that it is for Summer Hunger. Grace Lutheran Church also has an account so specific donations to Summer Hunger can be made there as well.

Anyone with questions about the sandwich stops or who would like to donate may call Katy Gonzales at (507) 848-0955.