Friday, September 2, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: The End

The summer has rolled by with increasing speed this year; June slipped almost unnoticed into July, July scurried into August, and it is now September and children are preparing to go back to school, if they haven’t returned already. The days of dancing in fire hydrants, catching fireflies and chasing the ice cream truck are numbered, and so are my days aboard the Lunch Bus. Today is the final day of the Lunch Bus City Route. The South Suburban Route ended two weeks ago, and the desk my fellow intern used to occupy has sat empty for the past 10 days reminding me that soon my papers will be cleared off and my desk will await the new Lunch Bus intern next year.

I have definitely gotten my own taste of the hunger and nutrition problems in the city this summer. I remember children like Jerome Fears at Back of the Yards who told me all about the new McFlurry he tried, but asked what a plum was, and Bruce Thomas whose favorite restaurant is Burger King, but had never tried bell peppers before. As an intern, I often worried about the day to day: whether we had chocolate milk, how many meals I could give out at each site and if kids would enjoy the food that day. But as the summer comes to an end, I realize we did more than just hand out lunches; we gave mothers a chance to save some much needed money, and fed kids at least one nutritious meal per day.

Each site has a different reaction to the announcement that Friday will be the final day. The kids at the Wabash YMCA asked if I was going to bring cake. At Back of the Yards it came as no surprise, as they thought the last day would be a few weeks ago. And at Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Castaneda family with eight kids went back to school on Aug. 29, so they said their goodbyes last week and asked if I would be back next year.

It will, in fact, be a new intern as I am heading down to Washington DC to take grad school classes and work in Public Affairs for the Department of Transportation. And, although someone new will be handing out sandwiches and checking off meal counts next year, I will never forget my summer on the Lunch Bus.

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 15,000 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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