Nearly 11 weeks after the first meals of the 2013 Scotland County Summer Feeding Program were served, program organizers and volunteers convened this week to recognize the efforts that brought more than 31,000 free meals to Scotland County children this summer.
The Summer Feeding Program is organized and administered by the Restoring Hope Center, an outreach of Northview Harvest Ministries. This summer was the seventh year for the federally-funded program, which begins in early June shortly after the last day of the public school year.
The program held a volunteer banquet on Thursday at First United Methodist Church to recognize its outstanding contributors. Some 150 volunteers and program supporters attended.
As a majority of school-aged children in the county qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch through their schools, the program attempts to fill the void left when those meal options are not available.
“There’s no way that we can encapsulate in just a short presentation that we can show here all of your hard work and all that’s gone on during the summer,” said program coordinator Sharon Quick. “There’s no way that we can share the stories that you have shared with me of the child who has looked at you with tears in their eyes and has told you that they didn’t have any food at home or that their mom told them that if they didn’t eat here then they wouldn’t get to eat today. There’s no way that we can share in pictures about the children that have tried to put food in their pockets so they could take it home and have something tonight.”
Meals were served at over 20 locations throughout the county, where churches, schools, Scotland County Parks and Recreation, and N.C. Cooperative Extension held camps and other summer activities. In addition, volunteers served lunch at “mobile sites” in parking lots at the Tara Village, Highland Village, and McIntosh Apartments communities.
“They have been out there in the 100 degree weather, they have been out there in 100 percent humidity, they have been out there in the pouring down rain, and nothing has deterred them,” Quick said of the mobile site volunteers. “Never once has any of them come to me and said this is not worth it. They have been there whether or not children have shown up and they have gone consistently with a good attitude every single day.”
Kevin Hunt, site manager of the Tara Village mobile site, was named mobile site manager of the year. Recognitions were also given to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. for its assistance as well as to the kitchen staff at Scotland High School, where most of the hot meals served during the program were prepared.
This year’s site manager of the year, Beverly Williams, managed the feeding site at Judah International Ministries in Maxton, which quickly grew beyond expectation.
“That first Monday Robeson County wasn’t out of school yet, so our first day we had right at 40 kids but by the end of that week we were up to over 100,” Williams said. “It was hard work but we got through it and the kids enjoyed it. We had some kids that were really hungry and probably that was their only meal for that day, so we just enjoyed making sure that they got enough.”
The program’s youngest volunteer, six-year-old Aniya Anderson, was named junior volunteer of the year.
“She was willing to go out in the heat and spend much time at a mobile feeding site,” Quick said. “She had such an incredible attitude and a love for the children at her site and a desire to see them be fed.”
Though students must qualify for free school lunch through family income requirements, the summer feeding program serves to all comers under the age of 18. Every year the program has broken its own meal service records, and it is likely to continue to grow in the coming years, Quick said, as more mobile sites are added.
Faye Coates, executive director of the Restoring Hope Center, commended Quick for her dedication in a position that is the equivalent of a full-time job.
“When the coolers are shut and the freezer doors are closed, there is still much work that has to be done before the next meal service day,” said Coates. “You would think a person who does all of those things would be paid a pretty good salary, but the truth of the matter is that Sharon volunteers her time every day, and so do all of these other people. They’re not compensated in any way for what they do.”