Although the country is still under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Food Program is underway and will be under new direction this season.
Taking the helm of the program is Heart of America ReDistribution Solutions and Support with the guidance of founder Jack Menges and Summer Food Coordinator Sue Foster. Foster said the food program began Monday in Cooper County and will begin in Pettis County Tuesday, May 26. This year due to the pandemic, the program will serve free, cold sack lunches to-go for children 18 and younger. There is no sign-up or personal information required for the program and it is not based on income.
Foster and Menges said the program is administered through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is in accordance with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
Menges said they decided to oversee the program this year because the former director stepped down. Foster, who has been coordinating the program for 11 years, added the State of Missouri called and asked if they could help.
“They were concerned because so many places rely on this,” Foster added. “Especially in this time, it’s really needed.”
Pettis County will have 11 distribution sites: Housel Park, Vermont Park, Liberty Park, Centennial Park, Hubbard Park, Katy Park, Washington Elementary School, Sunset Village Mobile Home Park, Lone Pine Mobile Home Park, Homestead Mobile Home Park and the Public Housing Authority.
Guidelines have changed slightly due to the pandemic.
“This year will be different in that the kids won’t congregate to eat at the sites,” Foster explained. “It will be a grab-and-go … and according to the waiver for USDA a parent can pick up for a child.”
In the past, children had to be present to receive lunch but due to social distancing, some food program guidelines have been relaxed.
“So, right now we’ll be going into the parks and the mobile home parks and I’m working on going out into the county,” she added. “There are some places in Benton County and we’re already in Cooper County.
“We’ve talked with Lincoln,” she continued. “I think Lincoln is going to start in June. And we’ve talked with Warsaw and Cole Camp as well.”
Foster said they began the program early because of the virus outbreak.
“We activated at the end of March because of this (pandemic),” she added. “Normally we would have started at the end of school.”
Heart of America worked with the Sedalia School District 200 to bring meals to children due to the stay-at-home order. While the school district provided meals during the week, Heart of America provided meals on the weekend.
“I’ve got to tell you, the Sedalia 200 School District, they have been so wonderful to work with,” Foster said. “I have moved in with their cooks up there in the FEMA kitchen, and we get along and we’re all here for the same purpose.
“The administration, the cooks, the teachers, everyone involved with Sedalia 200 they loaded those buses,” she continued. “They went out on those buses, they handed those meals out and they care so much for those kids. They are so vested in this program.”
Both Foster and Menges said they are thankful the district allows them to use the FEMA kitchen at Smith-Cotton Junior High for the Summer Food Program.
Foster added they work together with the Pettis County Health Department and noted everybody in the community works together well. The pair also cited Tyson Foods for donating food for the program each year.
“Everybody does their part, with anything that’s asked,” Foster said. “They are coming up with innovative ideas, and it’s a good thing to share.”
Menges said he plans to coordinate the program again next year along with Foster.
“I would see no reason why we wouldn’t,” he noted. “We didn’t take this on with the thought of ‘oh we’re just going to do it because nobody is.’ We’re going to do it because it’s necessary, and we’ve done it and we know what it takes.”
For more information, to volunteer or for times of distribution, call Foster at 660-596-3922.