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Summer free lunch program a real treat

Posted: August 10, 2013 - 11:02pm

Chicken casserole was probably my favorite, followed closely by burgers on the grill and fresh kale chips. I also loved sloppy joes and tacos. The macaroni and cheese that the kids made was amazing, especially with the roasted brussel sprouts. Actually, everyday was a treat and I’m not sure how I will adjust to bringing my own lunch to work again.

The summer lunch program at Shepherd of the Valley came to a close after 10 weeks. We served 1,561 meals to youth and 523 to adults (volunteers and family). There were approximately 250 different youth who dropped in at some point over the summer. We figure we read with youth 8,000 minutes, explored science, harvested amazing kale and radishes from our garden, engaged in 52,500 minutes of physical activity, taught basic cooking skills and learned some stories from the Bible. It was a good summer.

We spent about $3,900 on food and another $500 on recreation supplies. We had two paid positions to run the program all summer and their stipend came to $4,000. We received a $2,500 grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Domestic Hunger Grants Program and the rest came from generous people and churches throughout the community. A huge thanks to Eagle Wings Community Church for their support. 

When we began the summer lunch program last year, we set out four main goals:

• Provide healthy meals for neighborhood youth through the summer gap in a safe place

• Encourage time for relationships with caring and supportive people

• Shape a constructive use of time without screens

• Seek to follow Jesus’ command to “feed his sheep”

It is helpful to keep those goals in front of us throughout the program. We are not here to “fix” people, but ultimately our command is to feed and love. That’s the really cool part of what happens. If we follow the command to love, then we encounter each other as people and not a problem to be fixed. When we encounter each other as humans, then we both walk away from that encounter changed. That’s the difference between love and manipulation. That’s what made this summer so rich.

These kids who walked through our lives this summer changed us. They made us laugh, and sometimes greatly frustrated us, but there were lots of hugs and figuring out forgiveness. There truly is something powerful about forgiveness that happens when you sit down at the table together.

In our family, we end the day by sharing highs, lows, and God moments. We talk about what brought us joy, what was rough, and then how we saw God at work. I explain this to friends as those times in the day when something is incredibly beautiful, or you feel loved, or you are angry and make peace, or people are fed, or they find wholeness, or someone you judged or stereotyped surprises you. God moments are those times when the walls that divide us are broken down; when we experience love and grace.

The summer lunch program was full of God moments. Youth and adults gathered from across all kinds of lines to play kickball, make marshmallow shooters, curl up with some good books and eat amazing food around the table. A huge thank you to everyone who helped and we’ll see you again at the bike rodeo next year on Sunday, June 8, 2014.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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