Friday, August 26, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: Little Helpers

Last week, the Lunch Bus served 112 kids at the Miami Park site alone. So far, that is the record number served at any site on the City Suburban route—and is a milestone for the program. Some sites such as the Salvation Army in Little Village, has quadrupled in size since June, with more than 60 children served every day. With numbers this high, it can be difficult for me to enforce the rule that children must eat on site and keep the area clean, while also handing out lunches.

Recently, I haven’t had to worry about enforcing these rules alone. The children who visit the Lunch Bus regularly are incredibly willing to help. In fact, the minute we drive up to St. Pancratius, a group of kids asks to help unload the lunches. Whether they are naturally helpful, or just really hungry, their offers are much appreciated. Later, as I am packing up to leave and collecting garbage, my helpers will often spring into action again. This is especially noticeable at Miami Park, where Michelle and her sister Jasmine will jump up and climb under playground equipment to grab trash I hadn’t even seen. My helpers make my job much easier, but I am not the only one the kids assist.

At Back of the Yards, I noticed Rori would stop at Asia and Daeveon’s house before coming over to the park. Asia and “Dae Dae” are too young to cross the street by themselves, but Rori makes sure that the siblings get their lunches every day.

Many siblings help their younger brothers and sisters write their names if they are too young to use a pen. Christian is one such older brother at Miami Park. After he writes his and his siblings’ names, he often comes and sits in the grass by my table. When there is a long line, it’s difficult to hand out lunches and keep tabs on the exit. Suddenly, Christian will be at my side. “Their trying to leave,” he whispers, pointing to a group of kids sneaking out the exit. I explain they have to eat lunch at the park, and they turn back to the benches. When I asked him why he was helping me enforce the rules he said, as if it were obvious, “Because I want the Lunch Bus to keep coming for everybody.”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 25,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

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