September 9, 2016
By Tammy Grubb
The Food for the Summer partnership had one goal – feed as many hungry kids as possible in three months – and it did just that.
The partnership among Chapel Hill, Carrboro, the city schools, community groups and over 645 volunteers served 48,145 meals at 20 locations from June 13 to Aug. 26. That number included 17,425 breakfasts and snacks, program officials said, and the program ran for two more weeks than originally scheduled.
The partnership also handed out 3,500 books, said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who campaigned on the idea of a community summer food program last year. It was modeled on a smaller, four-year program operated by the city schools, Varsity Church of Chapel Hill, No Kid Hungry NC and TABLE.
The results were “just astounding,” said Hemminger, who met this week with community partners to celebrate the successes and plan for next year’s program and funding. She also spoke about Food for the Summer at the recent Mayor’s Innovation Project meeting in California.
“I was just so proud that this community worked so hard,” Hemminger said. “They wanted to make it work, and they did.”
But the summer was not without its challenges, including an unexpected scramble to replace the four biggest lunch sites when the GSC property management company halted service at their complexes.
The four sites – Estes Park, Royal Park, Kingswood and Carolina Apartments – were serving 90 to 100 kids a day until Aug. 1, said Jeanne Brown, the mayor’s aide.
GSC’s corporate officials had several concerns, including food safety, insurance, liability and whether they had parents’ permission, program coordinator Katie Hug said. They wanted Food for the Summer to remove signs and sidewalk chalk from the fun buckets, she said.
GSC officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro town staff found creative alternatives, Brown said. Volunteers moved to a bus stop at the Estes Park complex and a public easement at Royal Park. The kids at Kingswood followed an existing trail to the Frank Porter Graham Elementary School parking lot.
“We were worried that if we skipped a day or two, then kids would just quit coming,” Brown said. “We really need to extend through the whole summer; we didn’t want them to have a couple weeks of them not having food.”
TABLE handed out bags of food at Carolina Apartments – the most difficult site to relocate – until GSC let them return. Hug noted only eight of the 20 kids being served came back. The experience, Hemminger said, showed a need for better communication with parents and property managers.
“Their larger management company up the chain was more satisfied once they understood better what the program was, and once they understood that we had liability coverage ... then they didn’t have such grave concerns about it,” she said. “We’re going work with them in the spring and come back and have those conversations with them.”
The snags were overshadowed by the good things happening, Hug said. Property managers at Elliott Woods and Chase Park pitched in, providing hand sanitizer, wipes and tents, she said. Some volunteers and children also formed close friendships, Hemminger said, noting how one volunteer made plans to go fishing with a child he met through the program.
More than 120 children and teens were among the volunteers, she said. They played an important role, because they could relate more easily to their peers, and they were crucial when organizers extended the program, she said.
“During the last two weeks, I couldn’t have gotten it done without high school students,” Hug said.