Each school year, 22 million students across the United States receive free or reduced school lunches. But when the summertime comes, many of those children do not have similar lunch options available.
In Milwaukee this summer, National Church Residences has partnered with the Milwaukee Center for Independence and the Hunger Task Force to help provide free meals to the children at White Birch Apartments.
“It’s a free summer food service through the USDA,” said Heidi Chada, the Vice President of Employment and Commercial Services, and also a registered dietician, with the Milwaukee Center for Independence. “We provide the meals for free. It’s been a great partnership.”
“White Birch Apartments is one of the few family housing communities National Church Residences owns,” said Dorothy Patsy, the Director of Special Projects at National Church Residences. “There are a total of 357 one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments between the White Birch I and White Birch II Apartment Campuses. There are well over 800 children under the age of 17 living in this community and the majority of the children are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.”
The partnership came about when Dorothy reached out to the Hunger Task Force, which then contacted the Milwaukee Center for Independence.
“We’re one of the larger providers of meals, right behind the Milwaukee Public Schools,” Heidi said. “We look at income maps of the city and we put pins in for areas of need. There was nothing in (the White Birch) neighborhood. Working collaboratively with the Hunger Task Force, we identified that as an area of need.”
Two free lunch sites were established at White Birch in early July. Turnout was initially low, but it has been building.
“It started out maybe 10 or 15 kids at the south side of the complex. Now they’re serving between 35 and 40,” said Joan Blaney, the Business Manager at Milwaukee Center for Independence who works directly with White Birch. “The other side has stayed between 40 and 50.”
Joan said that information gathered from the launch of the food program at White Birch this year will help direct efforts for how to implement it in the future.
“We talk about it on a weekly basis at our agency,” she said. “We want to continue to make the program more successful.”
The Milwaukee Center for Independence has been operating the free food program for two decades and has seen a great deal of success.
“In Milwaukee we’ve grown the participation a little more and a little more each year,” Joan added. “It’s been going on for 20 years. In the past 10 years we’ve really increased it across the whole metropolitan area.”
Next summer the food program at White Birch will start around the second week of June.
“It’s meant to fill that gap in the summer when that last bell sounds in June and they go back to school in August,” said Heidi. “We want to make sure they continue getting proper nutrition. We come with a food truck and our staff serves the meals. It’s a pretty neat set-up.”
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